Wednesday, November 24, 2004

ND Football 2004

Issue 11: USC

Ladies and gentlemen, these are your seniors. I see selfless position changes, often ending in a loss of playing time, walkons who have gone beyond the call of duties, others who have never seen the gameday sidelines, and above all 4-5 years of hard work, sacrifice, and perserverance. Fans, before you cheer against the Irish to enact change, ask yourself if these players deserve the boos for what they've been handed. Underclassmen and coaches, before you go out there Saturday, ask yourselves if you're willing to do everything you possibly can to get a win for your teammates. Now, on to the preview.

USC Rush Offense vs. ND Rush Defense

Reggie Bush, right? Nope, LenDale White. Bush does average 60 yards per game on the ground, but it's White who leads the team with 85.9 YPG. Throw in backups Desmond Reed and Hershel Dennis, and you have a team that averages 179.5 yards per game on the ground. Oh yeah, and it's Anthony Davis day at the Coliseum.
On the other side of the ball, the Irish have one of the best run defenses of the country. The strength of this team is its front 7, and this front 7 is giving up 95.5 yards per game on the ground. They're definitely stronger than the Pac-10 run defenses USC has come against up to now. However, if the ND offense can't keep its defense of the field, it could be a long day for the front 7.

ND Rush Offense vs. USC Rush Defense

Consistency to a fault. Darius Walker had a good day two weeks ago, but more often than not he's right around his 75.4 yard average. Right behind Walker is Ryan Grant at 57.4 yards per game. Walker has 6 TDs on the ground to Grant's 5. Throw in a single 14 yard rush by Marcus Wilson, and there's your Irish rushing attack.
USC is giving up a stifling 69.2 yards per game on the ground. Granted, that's against teams not known for their running attacks, but opponent's defensive averages have often been all too indicative of ND's performance. USC's tackle leaders are linebackers Lofa Tatupu and Matt Grootegoed. Tatupu has 74 tackles, 12 for loss, while Grootegood has 53, 12.5 for loss. Again, this is a very active defense.

USC Pass Offense vs. ND Pass Defense

Have I mentioned Reggie Bush yet? I didn't bold his name there, so apparently I have. Last year, Derek Curry had nightmares trying to cover him man-to-man. I'd almost suggest putting an extra DB in to spy him, but do we have a DB that good? Besides, if you pay too much attention to Bush, their other receivers will get you. Matt Leinhart, with a 65.7 completion percentage and 23 TDs against 5 INTs, has plenty of options. Dwayne Jarrett is averaging 4 catches and 58.8 yards per game, tight end Dominique Byrd 3 catches and 49.2 yards, and WR Steve Smith is healthy again. He's only averaging 82.8 yards per game. If you're looking for touchdown men, it's Jarrett with 10 and Bush with 6.
Are DB-heavy formations the answer for the Irish? Well, first of all, the Trojans are "only" averaging 255.3 yards per game, while the Irish are giving up 261.2 per. Plus, more DBs in the game means less linebackers and down linemen. In ND's case, the backers and linemen are their best defensive players. Base 4-3 Man Zone anyone? I have no idea. Their best hope lies in a good pass rush, lead by end Justin Tuck.

ND Pass Offense vs. USC Pass Defense

I really could just copy and paste here. Brady Quinn has hit 20 different receivers. Watching the USC game a few weeks ago, the announcers mentioned that the overactive USC linebackers often leave the seams wide open for the tight ends. Watch out for Anthony Fasano and whomever else is healthy in this one.
The Trojans give up 197.2 yards per game in a pass happy league. Their defense averages 4.2 sacks, 1.7 INTs, and 4.7 pass breakups per game. Oddly enough, the INT leader is Grootegood, so be smart on those short passes. (Of course, he could just be a Ray Lewis type linebacker: an oversized safety who plays robber all day then takes too much credit when the D-line tips passes to him.)

Special Teams

Placekicker Ryan Killeen has been average at best. He's 7-16 on field goals this year, including two misses from 20+, 2 from 30+, and 5 from 40+. His long is 42... and he's 2-7 from 40 plus. Are none of the USC coaches paying attention to this guy's range? Of course, they could just have a "why punt, our defense will stop them anyways" philosophy. Speaking of punting, Tom Malone has an average of 43.7 per and a long of 62. Of course, he also has 9 touchbacks.
Returns? Does the name Reggie Bush sound familiar? Bush is most volatile on punt returns, where he has a 16.7 average and 2 touchdown. On kick returns, he has an average of 27.2 yards per on a team that averages 24.4 per.
Meanwhile, the Trojan kick coverage teams have been average. The punt coverage team is solid with a 5.2 average, while the kick coverage team is giving up 20.5 per. Neither has surrendered a TD.
DJ. Solid. 10-13 on field goals with a long of 47. A 42.3 punt average with a wind-aided long of 67 and 26 of 62 punts inside the 20.
I think we finally may be starting to figure out this whole return thing. Give us another 6 games or so and... wait, what's that? This is our last game? Crap. Anyways, Carlos Campbell has been a diamond in the rough with a 27.5 average on kickoffs and a long of 41. Chase Anastasio has an 18.2 average and along of 40. On punts, Carlyle Holiday has an average of 11 yards per return and a long of 68.
Coverage teams have been up and down. Well, kick teams have been mostly down. They give up 20.9 yards per return, while the punt teams are giving up 6.8 yards per return.

Look for a big game from
Everyone, especially Fasano, Grant, and the entire front 7

ND 20, USC 17: Who said being an optimist was easy?