2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 8 - USC at Notre Dame
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Oct. 22 USC 31 … at Notre Dame 17
CFN Analysis: Notre Dame gave up the turnovers, and USC was more than happy to take advantage, especially on Jawanza Starling’s game-turning fumble return for a score in the third, but give the defense credit for coming up with its best performance of the season. Michael Floyd was a non-factor, and the run defense stuffed Cierre Wood and allowed just 41 total yards. Offensively, the Matt Barkley-to-Robert Woods show continued, hooking up 12 times for 119 yards, while Curtis McNeal added 118 yards and Marc Tyler ran well despite his bumps and bruises. Beating Notre Dame after last year’s loss was big, but it’s time to go big game hunting. With no bowl game on the horizon, ruining Stanford’s dream season would make the season.
Seriously, Notre Dame, more turnovers? All three losses this year came because of bad turnovers at the worst times, and against the Trojans, the -3 turnover margin, and the lost fumble for a score in the third quarter, proved to be the main difference. The secondary’s issues stopping Robert Woods didn’t help, and the inability to run the ball was a problem, but everything stemmed from the mistakes. USC didn’t give the ball away, only committed two penalties, and hung on to the ball for an eternity, grinding out drive after drive Outside of the George Atkinson kickoff return for a score, the Irish couldn’t get anything going settling for just two field goals. The BCS hope is gone, that the record will quickly rebound with an easy stretch before the Stanford showdown. Call this yet another step in the progression for the young team, but also call this a wake-up call. The team still isn’t good enough to overcome mistakes.
(AP) SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- USC safety Jawanza Starling saw the ball rolling around and bouncing on the ground and knew if he could control it, somehow pick it up, an open field was in front of him.
Talk about a game-changing play. Starling made the biggest one Saturday night, an 80-yard return of a fumbled snap as the Trojans started strong and then held off Notre Dame for a 31-17 victory.
"I would say it's our team's biggest win since we've been here because of all the stuff around it," second-year USC coach Lane Kiffin said of the electric atmosphere surrounding Notre Dame's first home night game in 21 years.
With the Trojans nursing a 17-10 lead, Notre Dame had the ball at the USC 1 and was on the verge of tying the game when backup quarterback Dayne Crist lost the handle on the snap.
"I was just like 'I got to get it. I had to get it,'" Starling said.
"I didn't dribble it. I just had to wait for the perfect bounce because I didn't want to try and go for it too soon and miss it. So I was just taking my time with it. Scoop and score, everything we do in practice and I took it the house."
Matt Barkley passed for three TDs for the Trojans (6-1), who jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half.
USC, which has now won nine of the last 10 meetings in the long rivalry, had a 443-267 advantage in total yards. Notre Dame (4-3) had three second-half turnovers, couldn't stop the Trojans' rushing attack and saw its four-game winning streak end.
A disappointed coach Brian Kelly promised a tough week of practice ahead.
"Losing stinks. For me, it's hard for me to put a stink meter on losing. They all stink," Kelly said.
"This is the first time that I've leaned on my guys pretty hard in the locker room. I was not happy. Because we are better than that. We are better than that. And, to turn the ball over in the ridiculous fashion that we have ... just makes me crazy. I just don't understand how something so easy can come out the way it does," Kelly added.
When starter Tommy Rees hurt his knee after being hit and had to come out momentarily, Crist replaced him.
Crist, who lost the starter's job after the first half of the season opener, completed 4 of 5 passes to help the Irish reach the 1. But when he couldn't control the snap, the ball got loose and Starling picked it up and ran in for the long TD. Instead of a potentially tied game, USC went up 24-10 late in the third.
"He was going to fake it to the back and throw a pop back to the tight end," Kelly said of the play he called before Crist fumbled.
"That was a big momentum swing," Starling said. "They were driving the ball and we come out and get a play like that on defense, it just turns the whole tone of the game."
Rees returned to the game on the next series and immediately led the Irish to a score, that coming on Jonas Gray's 25-yard TD run, cutting the lead to a touchdown early in the fourth.
After USC's Andre Heidari missed a 32-yard field goal with 9:13 to go, the Trojans' Chris Galippo came up with the second of three second-half turnovers by the Irish. He recovered what was ruled a fumbled lateral when Rees threw a pass behind the line to Cierre Wood, who didn't catch the ball. The play was upheld by video replay, giving the Trojans a first down at the 18 with 8:46 to go.
Marc Tyler was open in the end zone but his foot hit the sideline as he caught a pass from Barkley. But two plays later, Barkley made a great pump fake and hit Robert Woods with a 14-yard TD pass for a 31-17 lead. That play was also upheld by video replay.
"They can try to do whatever they want to him. It's just crazy. He still had 12 catches for over 100 yards and they were crowding him it seemed almost every play when he was singled out over there," Barkley said of Woods. "I think those play actions helped get him open."
Any hope of an Irish comeback evaporated when Rees was intercepted by Nickell Robey on the next series.
Barkley completed 24 of 35 passes for 224 yards and Curtis McNeal finished as the Trojans' leading rusher with 118 yards on 24 carries. USC had 219 yards total rushing on 44 carries. Woods, meanwhile, made 12 catches for 119 yards and two TDs.
USC's defense held Notre Dame star Michael Floyd to four catches for 28 yards and limited the Irish to 41 yards rushing on 14 carries.
USC dominated most of the first half with its offense behind the running of Tyler and the passing of Barkley and built the 17-0 lead late in the second quarter.
But Irish freshman George Atkinson III broke loose for a 96-yard TD kickoff return and got both his team and the crowd back in the game with just over three minutes remaining in the half. It was his second kickoff return for a score this season.
Then, after the Irish defense forced USC's first punt of the game, Rees completed 6 of 9 passes and took the Irish on a late drive that reached USC 7. It stalled and David Ruffer's 25-yard field goal got Notre Dame within 17-10 at the half.
Tyler, who hurt his shoulder last week against Cal, looked fine on the Trojans' opening drive. Kiffin said Tyler had trouble with a sore knee later in the game when McNeal saw most of the action.
Tyler carried six times for 38 yards on the first drive as USC went right at the Irish defense with its inside running game. The 13-play, 66-yard drive -- 60 of it on the ground -- was capped by Barkley's 2-yard TD toss to a wide open Randall Telfer.
Barkley took the Trojans right down the field again on their second possession, connecting to Marqise Lee for 18 and Woods for 19 in a 62-yard drive. Woods caught a 3-yard TD pass on the sixth play of the march, making it 14-0 with a minute left in the opening quarter. USC had a 128-14 total offense advantage in the first quarter.
Heidari kicked a 25-yard field goal to make it 17-0 with 3:34 left in the half.
USC (5-1) at Notre Dame (4-2) Oct. 22, 7:30, NBC
Here’s The Deal … Every matchup between USC and Notre Dame has its own pulse and set of storylines. The 83rd edition of this classic intersectional rivalry is no different.
Last Nov. 27 marked the first meeting of the new head coaches, Lane Kiffin and Brian Kelly, with the Irish snapping the Trojans’ series-best eight-game winning streak in dramatic fashion. This fall, both programs are looking to remain hot, recapturing some national respect while sneaking a little closer to the Top 25. That this will be the first night game in South Bend since 1990 will just add to the intrigue and electricity level.
Notre Dame has regrouped nicely from its 0-2 start by winning four straight games; the Sept. 17 victory over ranked Michigan State that started the streak looks even better today than it did at the time. Testament to its versatility, the Irish have found different ways to survive. Against Pittsburgh last month, it used defense in a 15-12 nail-biter. Over the last games, it scored 97 points to blow past Purdue and Air Force. If ND can clear this week’s hurdle, a BCS bowl berth becomes an attainable goal.
Without much hoopla outside the West Coast, USC has begun to play a better brand of football, beating Arizona and Cal in consecutive weeks. Still, no one is quite sure of the potential of these Trojans, which lost their only game against a ranked opponent. This trip to the Midwest will be a particularly big deal for Kiffin, who’s still looking for his first signature win as Troy’s head coach.
Why USC Might Win: The offense, specifically the passing game, continues to be the calling card of this Trojans team. Well-protected QB Matt Barkley performed in the first half as if he plans on being a future first-round NFL Draft choice, uncorking 16 touchdown passes to only four picks. In Robert Woods, he’ll be teaming up with one of the nation’s premier wide receivers. The sophomore and true freshman Marqise Lee, who’s caught a touchdown pass in four straight games, will enjoy a considerable edge over an average collection of Irish cover guys.
USC would also like to get RB Curtis McNeal into the flow of the game early on. The junior has rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns on his last 24 carries, picking up some slack as starter Marc Tyler heals his dislocated shoulder.
Why Notre Dame Might Win: While the Trojans have been stout against the run this fall, you can complete passes on their defensive backfield. Though coming off its best game of the year, USC still ranks just 105th nationally in pass defense; couple that reality with QB Tommy Rees’ last two outings, and the Irish should be able to move the ball through the air. In the wins over Purdue and Air Force, Rees was one of the heroes, throwing seven touchdown passes without an interception.
The sophomore has his version of Woods, game-changing WR Michael Floyd. Plus, Notre Dame is much deeper at the skill positions than USC. Along with Floyd, three Irish receivers, Tyler Eifert, Theo Riddick and TJ Jones, have at least three touchdown catches. And the combination of backs Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray has already rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.
What To Watch Out For: Both teams’ linebackers will be under the microscope on Saturday night. USC has been thrilled with the play of rookies Hayes Pullard, a true freshman, and leading tackler Dion Bailey, a former safety with great range. However, it’ll still be interesting to see how well the kids handle the pressure of being a part of such a high-profile game. Plus, Notre Dame’s penchant for using Eifert down the seams will force the kids to be on their best behavior in pass coverage.
On the Irish side of the defense, this is an ideal setting for Manti Te’o to make a push for national awards. If he’s not the best linebacker in the country, he’ll certainly be in the Butkus Award photo. A treat to watch roaming the field, he should be good for double-digit tackles, with a couple for minus yards.
What Will Happen: On many levels, this setting will be an opportunity for Notre Dame to throw its coming-out party of 2011. Now that it’s gotten a better grip on the ball, it’s a different team than the one that opened with losses to South Florida and Michigan. The Irish have stabilized on both sides of the line, while USC remains a little more of a work-in-progress.
With a few extra days for Kelly to prepare, ND will feature a finely-tuned offensive gameplan that nuances Rees’ passes with the committee ground game. Heck, even backup QB Andrew Hendrix might log a handful of carries as a change of pace. While it’ll be a close game throughout, Notre Dame, especially on a rare night game in South Bend, will keep the Trojans at arm’s length, and its BCS bowl hopes alive for at least another week.
CFN Prediction: Notre Dame 31 … USC 24
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Notre Dame -9 O/U: 57.5
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