USC defensive linemen Leonard Williams (94) and J.R. Tavai (58) sack Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / October 10, 2013)
The first half of the season was a roller coaster for Notre Dame and after a timely bye week, the Irish welcome the USC Trojans to South Bend to kick off the second half of the season.
The Trojans have ridden their own roller coaster so far with the firing of the arrogant college football journeymen, Lane Kiffin and a couple losses of their own. With Kiffin out and Ed Orgeron filling in, the Trojans have new life and will provide the Irish with a great challenge this weekend.
The Trojan defense is a tough code to crack. In their first four games, the Trojans surrendered an average of 11 points per game, earning a 3-1 record which included a surprising loss to Washington State. More recently, and against much tough opponents, the Trojans have been bludgeoned for 93 total points, 62 of those coming in a loss to Arizona State.
Anchoring the Trojan defensive line is, George Uko and Leonard Williams. Neither player will blow your mind statistically; however, they are explosive off the ball and can really clog up the middle of the field. Kelly mentioned the importance of “eliminating penetration” from “a very aggressive defense” in his press conference.
The second level of the Trojan defense doesn’t get much easier to navigate. Outside Linebackers Morgan Breslin and Devon Kennard will certainly have Tommy Rees’ attention, especially in blitz packages. Breslin and Kennard will put their hand in the ground on the defensive line as well, providing USC with a potent pass rush The Trojan defense is averaging 3 sacks per game and will certainly be attacking the immobile Irish quarterback, Saturday evening.
The Trojan Secondary has looked vulnerable in the last two games, allowing 714 yards through the air. This is a talented defensive backfield with Dion Bailey lurking at safety with 2 interceptions, a long with counterpart, Su’a Cravens. Cravens is a true freshman that has the size and speed to disrupt the Irish passing game. Anthony Brown, a talented red-shirt junior, is also expected to return to the lineup at corner after missing the last 5 weeks to injury.
Both teams need a statement win and with each team at 4-2, a good win could catapult either team into the Top25. For the Irish, the run game will be crucial and set the tone for the offense. The Trojan defense gave up 261 yards on the ground against Arizona State and another 145 against the Wildcats. The Trojan run defense is ranked 15th in the nation, and giving up just 107 yards a game on the ground, but the last two weeks have proven they can be pushed around. The Trojan’s athleticism on the defensive line and linebackers makes me nervous with Tommy Rees under center. The offensive line has done great, but its Rees throwing on the run that makes me uncomfortable. If the Irish can keeping running the ball consistently, it should open up some play-action opportunities through the air.
Overall, I think this is a great match-up for the Irish and considering the inconsistent Trojan defense; the Irish should start the second half of the season with a victory.