Thursday, October 20, 2011

Notre Dame Football 2011: BEAT SC Game Preview

USC Offense vs Notre Dame Defense

USC's offensive playcalling has been more-or-less balanced, only slightly favoring the pass. The Trojans may want to favor the pass a little more this Saturday, both because of Notre Dame's defensive reputation, and because leading rusher 26 Marc Tyler is expected to miss the game after dislocating his shoulder against Cal. Tyler's primary backup, 22 Curtis McNeal, is averaging an impressive 7 yards per carry, but that's mostly as a 5-7, 180 pound change of pace back. Assuming McNeal can't take a full game's worth of snaps, the Irish will also see a healthy dose of 30 DJ Morgan.

Quarterback 7 Matt Barkley wouldn't be considered a mobile quarterback by most standards, but he has gained more yards on the ground than he's lost (thanks partly to only 4 sacks on the year). Fullback 40 Rhett Ellison has only run the ball once this year (for -5 yards), but he has been an effective outlet in the passing game, averaging two catches per contest.

USC's passing attack centers around wideout 2 Robert Brooks, who is averaging 10 catches per game. Fellow receivers 9 Marqise Lee and 80 Brandon Carswell are averaging less than 3 catches per game, and no other Trojan receiver (outside of fullback Ellison) is averaging more than one per game.

Regardless of who he's throwing it to, Barkley has been a very accurate passer this year, completing 68 percent of his throws, with 16 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions.

Not surprisingly, Manti Te'o is the key component of Notre Dame's defense. Te'o is leading the team in tackles (59), tackles for loss (8.5), and sacks (4). Cornerbacks Robert Blanton and Gary Gray have two interceptions apiece to lead the team, while Harrison Smith has 7 pass breakups - many of them near interceptions.

Notre Dame Offense vs USC Defense

The Irish have put up spectacular numbers on both sides of the ball. The run game is averaging close to 200 yards per contest, with Cierre Wood at 108 yards per game and Jonas Gray at 66.

Tommy Rees is completing 66 percent of his passes, with 14 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Not surprisingly, Michael Floyd has been his main target; Floyd is averaging 9 catches per game. Tyler Eifert has come on of late as Rees's #2 option, and is averaging 5 catches per game. Wideouts not named Floyd (Theo Riddick and TJ Jones) are averaging 4 catches per game, and Cierre Wood is averaging 2. Riddick got a boost of confidence with playcalling that centered around him in the Air Force game - now let's see if he can carry that forward into this week.

As usual, USC's defensive strength is in its linebackers. 18 Dion Bailey is a converted safety, and he still plays like one in many ways. While Bailey leads the team in tackles with 48, he's also first on the team in interceptions with 2. Defensive end 8 Nick Perry leads the Trojans with 4 sacks. Both are impressive numbers, but this is a USC defensive unit that isn't quite as good as it was in its glory days last decade.

USC also has 5-8, 165 21 Nickell Robey starting at one corner. Even if Robey isn't matched up on Michael Floyd, it's likely that he'll have to guard the 6-2 TJ Jones, and that's a matchup Tommy Rees will have to look to exploit.

Special Teams

Southern Cal's 48 Andre Heidari has been near perfect on the year, converting 10-11 field goals, including 3-4 from 40+. David Ruffer, by comparison, is 4-8 with a long of 39.

USC punter 35 Kyle Negrete is averaging just 39 yards per punt, but he has put 10 of 18 inside the 20. However, opponents are averaging 16 yards per punt return. The Irish punt team has similar mediocre numbers, with Ben Turk averaging 37 yards per punt and opponents are averaging 22 yards per return.

USC's primary punt returner is Nickell Robey. He's averaging 10 yards per return with a long of 44. For the Irish, John Goodman is averaging just 0.3 yards per return, but rumors are flying about Michael Floyd dropping deep to return punts in this game.

Robert Woods returns kicks for the Trojans, and he's averaging 26 yards per return. For the Irish, George Atkinson is averaging 29 per return, including an 82-yard touchdown.

Andre Heidari also kicks off for the Trojans, and he's averaging 63 yards per kick, while his teammates are giving up 20 yards per return for an average start at the 26. Five of Heidari's 36 kicks have gone for touchbacks. Notre Dame's Kyle Brindza is averaging 67 yards per kick, with 7 of his 35 kicks going for touchbacks. Notre Dame is giving up 22 yards per return, meaning opponents start at the 24 yard line on average.


Notre Dame 33, USC 25