Wednesday, October 12, 2005

ND Football 2005

Issue 6: USC

USC Rush Offense vs ND Rush Defense

USC has not one but two runners averaging 120 yards per game. LenDale White has hit the end zone 10 times on the ground. He doesn't do much dancing in the backfield - he only has 4 yards in the "loss" column this year. White averages "only" 7.6 yards per carry, compared to Reggie Bush's 8.6. Bush has reached the endzone 6 times on the ground, with a long run of 76 yards. As a team, USC has averaged 291.2 yards rushing a game. Their low mark this season was 177 yards against Hawaii.
Notre Dame, lead by a trio of fine linebackers and two hard-hitting safeties, is giving up 116 rushing yards per game. Brandon Hoyte is leading the team in tackles with 42, including 10.5 in the backfield. Hoyte and the rest of the front seven will have to step up and make tackles in this game. If those safeties to have to creep in to help out the run, the corners will get burned all day long. This game will be a spotlight of Maurice Crum at the Apache Linebacker - a position created to control hybrid backs like Reggie Bush.

ND Rush Offense vs USC Rush Defense

One of the keys for Notre Dame will be the ability to control the clock and keep USC's offense off the field. Darius Walker has topped the 100 yard mark four times this year, and his per game average is 105.6 yards. Notre Dame's number 2 back in terms of carries is Rashon Powers-Neal, who has gained 100 yards on 31 attempts. RPN, the short-yardage back, has also picked up 6 touchdowns along the way. Quarterback Brady Quinn has been an effective weapon this year when he chooses to run. Not counting sacks, Quinn has picked up 123 yards on 20 carries.
USC is said to have an inexperienced front 7, so that is something the experience ND offensive line (which should include a healthy Bob Morton) will have to take advantage of. The Trojans' leading tackler is MLB Oscar Lua. Lua has made 32 tackle, but his 0.5 sack is his only backfield stop. USC is giving up 90 yards per game on the ground. However, that number is a bit deceiving. WAC/PAC-10 opponents averaged 64 yards rushing against USC. Arkansas, the one team with a run-based offense, rushed for 197 yards against the Trojans.

USC Pass Offense vs ND Pass Defense

Returning Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart is averaging 329 yards per game. Leinart also has 12 TDs to only 3 interceptions. His primary targets are his two wide receivers. Dwayne Jarrett has been the go-to guy, with 35 catches for 467 yards, an average of 7 catches and 93.4 yards per game. Jarrett has also found the endzone 9 times this season. While Jarrett is the reliable option, Steve Smith is more of a big-play guy. Smith is has picked up 575 yards on only 27 catches, which calculates out to averages of 115 and 5.4. Even with his 21.3 yard-per-catch average and long gain of 67 yards, Smith has only one touchdown. After the two receivers, the ball has been spread evenly to Reggie Bush (13 catches), fullback David Kirtman (12), and tight end Dominique Byrd (10). One noticeable thing - when LenDale White is in the game, he isn't much of a threat in the passing game. White has only 3 catches on the season.
Once again, Notre Dame will have to play ball control on offense to keep their defense off the field. The Irish secondary has shown that it has the talent to be good in the future, but in the present they're still shaky. ND is giving up 305.6 yards per game in the air. Notre Dame has played five good passing teams this year, and for the most part they've been able to rely on their own offense's production and opportunistic turnovers (in addition to Wannstedt's stubbornness and Breaston's hands of stone, of course). One thing that has been missing is a good push from the defensive line. Of ND's 11 sacks, only five have come from lineman. With the linebackers preoccupied with Bush and White, the likes of Victor Abiamiri and Trevor Laws will have to step it up big in this one. Otherwise, this game will be the fourth straight "Heisman Showcase" for a Trojan QB.

ND Pass Offense vs USC Pass Defense

Two thoughts, which may or may not be related to this game. I read a comment over on Fanblogs that considered the Heisman a two-year process: first comes the "hype year," then the year when the trophy is one. Think of it: two years ago, Leinart got tons of hype, while Jason White took home the hardware. The next year, Leinhart won, while Reggie Bush got the hype. This year, Bush is again a favorite, but Brady Quinn is starting to pick up some hype. He's still a longshot, both in this year and the next, but "I'm just sayin'." Thought two: Carson Palmer looked flat-out overmatched for years against ND, until 2002, when everything clicked and he won big. Quinn (along with the rest of the team) has looked overmatched for two years against USC....
OK, enough of that. Back to the analysis. Quinn has numbers eerily similar to Leinart's at this point (Leinart's numbers in parentheses): 1621 yards (1646), 324.5 per game (329.2), 65.3 completion percentage (65.1), 13 TDs/3 INTs (12/3). Rhema McKnight "might play" in this game, but his absence hasn't been too noticeable as of late. Jeff Samardzija has become a manchild, picking up 499 yards and 8 TDs on 28 catches (99.8 yards, 5.6 catches per game). After him, Mo Stovall has become (usually) a reliable posession receiver. Stovall has 388 yards and 1 TD on 23 catches (77.6 yards, 4.6 catches per game). Also with 23 catches is tight end Anthony Fasano. Fasano also has 249 receiving yards, or 49.8 per game. After the big three, Darius Walker has 17 catches and 116 yards out of the backfield and Matt Shelton has 159 yards on 14 quick slants.
I would predict Jersey Boy Fasano to have a big game based on the rumored guests for this Friday's pep rally. However, he and John Carlson may be preoccupied helping tackles Ryan Harris and Mark LeVoir with defensive ends Frostee Rucker and Lawrence Jackson, who have combined for 8 sacks and 12 backfield stops on the season. Overall, USC has 16 sacks, which breaks down to 3 by the linebackers, 1 by a cornerback (Justin Wyatt), .5 by a safety (Josh Pinkard), and 11.5 by the line. The Trojans also have 10 picks, led by CB John Walker and S Josh Pinkard with 2 each. The breakdown on INTs is 3 by corners, 5 by safeties, and 2 by linebackers. What that tells us about USC's coverage schemes, I don't know, but hopefully Rick Minter does.

Special Teams

USC walk-on kicker Mario Danelo has made two field goals from 36 yards, and missed from 42. He is, however, perfect on 36 PAT attempts. Counterpart DJ Fitzpatrick is 6 for 7 on field goal attempts, including 1 for 2 from 48 yards. DJ is also perfect on 23 PAT attempts.
USC has punted 13 times this year, 12 by Tom Malone. Malone has an average of 42.8 yards with a long of 60, 2 touchbacks, and 4 kicks inside the 20. DJ Fitzpatrick has punted 19 times, with an average of 40.7 yards, a long of 60, 1 touchback, and four inside the 20. Fitzpatrick has also been blocked once.
USC's kick returners are running backs Reggie Bush and Desmond Reed. Guess who's having the better season? Bush is averaging 17.5 yards per on 8 returns, with a long of 30. Reed is averaging 40.8 yards per, with a long of 51. I still wouldn't kick to either. DJ Fitzpatrick and Carl Gioia have shared kickoff duties for the Irish, although it is usually Fitzpatrick who is called upon in key situations. Fitzpatrick is averaging just under 58 yards per kick, which translates to an average start at the 12 yard line. Gioia is just behind at 56 yards per kick. DJ has 4 touchbacks to Gioia's 2. ND coverage teams are surrendering 19.5 yards per return, giving opponents an average start between the 30 and the 35. Lately, coach Charlie Weis has lived by the philosophy of kicking it high and placing it well to avoid a big return - so taht is something else to take into consideration.
Notre Dame's kick return duties have been shared between Justin Hoskins, Brandon Harris, and David Grimes. Grimes has taken over the primary role with his long of 40 yards and 31 yard per return average. Comparatively, Hoskins has an average of 23 and long of 24, while Harris has an average of 17.7 and long of 22. Freshman Troy Van Blarcom has been the kickoff specialist for the Trojans. Van Blarcom has a 63.6 yard average with 12 touchbacks and 2 kicks out of bounds. His average gives opponents a start at the 1.4 yard line. From there, the coverage team is giving up 26.6 yards per return, meaning opponents start around the 28 yard line.
Reggie Bush has been USC's punt returner, but he has been less than impressive. On 7 returns, Bush has an average of 5.7 yards, including a long of 24. Opponents have punted the ball 28 times, which means 75% of the time, they just avoid Bush. Notre Dame's punt coverage team has been great this year - yielding 5.4 yards per return.
Safety Tom Zbikowski is the Irish punt returner. On 7 returns, he has averaged 13.5 yards, with a long of 25. The Trojan punt coverage team is yeilding a mediocre 17 yards per return.

Look for a big game from Quinn, the O-Line, Samardzija, BHoyte, Laws, Fitzpatrick, Weis.

ND 41, USC 38: Samardzija, RPN, Walker, Fasano, Zbikowski, and two by DJ. Wanna fight about it?

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