Charlie Weis faces the biggest challenge as head football coach at Notre Dame today as the Irish host Southern California in the continuation of the longest intersectional series in the country.
With his job on the line, the alumni at his throat, Weis faces the first highly ranked team his team has faced so far this year in the Trojans. ND is 4-1 but the wins have come over teams that have not made the top 25, except for Michigan, who has since fallen out of the ranks.
Weis is not liked by many of the alumni and they are the ones with the dollars that go to the university. From his third season on Weis has been losing at a regular pace and that does not sit well with the alumni and the Irish faithful. It is also well circulated on the ND campus that Weis was given one more year to bring the program around. He was kept on for this year because of his four top recruiting classes out of the five years he has been in South Bend. The one more year, reportedly, had the tag on it that nine or more wins is a must. With a very manageable schedule the powers that be believe that nine plus wins is something very obtainable.
But the performance of the Irish in the first five games does not impress. Four of the five have gone down to the last few minutes, or seconds, plus overtime. The 4-1 record could easily be a 1-4 mark if not for the work of Jimmy Clausen and a little bit of luck. So Weis faces today's game with a real challenge. The Trojans come into the game with the best defense the Irish have faced so far this year and that is a challenge for the potent ND offense. The Trojans also come into the game with one of the best quarterbacks in the country and a solid running game, a real challenge for a Notre Dame defense that has given up tons of running and passing yards and plenty of points. Thankfully, the ND offense has been able to keep up with the points the defense has been giving up.
Now lets look at today's match.
Head coach Pete Carroll has built the Trojans into a national power that is ranked among the top teams year after year. The last time ND beat USC was in 2001, 27-16. Since 2002 Carroll has led the Trojans to at least 11 wins in each of those seasons. The run includes back-to-back national championships in 2003-04. Only a three point loss to Texas in the BCS title game in 2005 ruined a third national title. Since 2002 the Trojans have won 90 of 101 games.
The Trojans are led by QB Matt Barkley, who missed the Washington game which USC lost for their only defeat so far this season. The USC running game is led by FB Stanley Havili and TB Moe McKnight. Top receivers are flanker Damian Williams and TE Anthony McCoy. Defensively, the Trojans are led by DE Everson Griffen.
USC is ranked 25th nationally in total offense, 19th rushing and 55th passing. Defensively, the Trojans are ranked fifth nationally overall, and fifth against the rush and third against the pass.
ND is ranked 10th in total offense, 59th rushing and eighth passing. Defensively, the figures aren't good. ND is ranked 96th nationally in total defense, 67th against the run and 76th against the pass. USC is ranked sixth in the country and enters with a 4-1 record. The wins have been over San Jose State (56-3), Ohio State (18-15), Washington State (27-6) and California (30-3). The lone loss was to Washington (16-13).
The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. ND leads the series 42-33-5. It has been a series of streaks. USC has won the last seven in a row for there longest in the series. ND had its own streak, winning 11 in a row from 1983-94 and overall won 13 without a loss from 1983-95. There was a 17-17 tie in 1994 that interrupted the ND streak.
IRISH NOTES: ND moved into the top 25 this week without playing a game. They are 25th....Through five games Armando Allen has 365 yards on 71 carries and three TDs; Robert Hughes 158 on 30 and two scores; and Golden Tate 93 on 13 and one. Clausen has completed 100 passes of 148 attempts with two interceptions, 1,544 yards and 12 TDs. Receiving has Tate with 33 receptions and 602 yards and four TDs; Kyle Rudolph 21 for 267 and three scores; Michael Floyd 13 for 358 and five scores; and Allen 10 for 75 yards.... ND has 15 verbal commitments for next year. National letter of intent signing day is Feb. 3, 2010. The recruits on ND's list include Christian Lombard, 6-6 and 290, offensive lineman from Palatine, Ill.; Daniel Smith, 6-4 and 205, wide receiver from South Bend; Chris Martin, 6-4 and 230 OL/DE, from Auroro, Colo.; Alex Welch, 6-5 and 230, TE from Cincinnati; Bennett Jackson, 6-1 and 168, WR, from Hazle, N.J.; Andrew Hendrix, 6-2 and 230, QB from Cincinnati; Blake Lueders, 6-5 and 250 DE from Zionsville, Ind.; Lo Wood, 5-10 and 170 CB from Apopka, Fla.; Chris Badger, 6-0 and 190 SS from Provo, Utah; Justin Utupo, 6-2 and 250 DE, Lakewood, Calif.; Tommy Rees, 6-3 and 192 QB from Lake Forest, Ill.; Kendall Moore, 6-3 and 232, LB from Raleigh, N.C.; Spencer Boyd, 5-10 and 178 CB from Cape Coral, Fla.; Prince Shembo, 6-2 and 237 DE/LB from Charlotte, N.C.; and Cameron Roberson, 6-1 and 217, RB from Newbury Park, Calif. I know names and the rest doesn't tell you a lot about the individual but so far the class is rated high by CBS recruiting analysis Tom Lemming. Lemming said 11 of the top recruits the Irish are after will be at the game today for official and unofficial visits. Lemming also reported that the Irish have offered Conor Hanratty, son of former ND great QB Terry Hanratty, a scholarship. Hanratty has also received offers from Iowa, Wisconsin, Stanford, Cal, Boston College, UConn and Duke. He plays QB at New Canaan High in Conn....Nick Tausch's five field goals against Washington tied a school record. He has hit 10 straight after missing his first career attempt against Michigan. The five record was set by Craig Hentrich in 1990 and Nicholas Setta in 2002 and 2003....USC's defense has not given up a touchdown pass this season....ND is 23-12-1 at home against the Trojans. The 42 wins by the Irish is the most by any opponent of USC....ND's offense has yet to face a top 40 defense until today. On the same note, USC has not faced a top 40 offense until today....The Irish team got a surprise this week. Michael Floyd, out with a broken collarbone he sustained in the Michigan State game, returned to practice on Tuesday afternoon. He was not expected to return until late November and not be able to play until a possible bowl game in December. Floyd was practicing with pads on but not allowed contact. Weis said a check of the injury will occurr on Nov. 2 and if all is well, Floyd could be back in action for either the Navy or Pittsburgh games....Other good news. FB James Aldridge (shoulder), HB Armando Allen (ankle) and OLB Darius Fleming (hamstring) are all "full go" for today, Weis said....Weis also said no green jerseys today, the traditional home blue will be worn....Today's game is the 15th for Weis against a nationally ranked team as head coach. He is 4-10 against top 25 teams. Lou Holtz was 33-20-2 against top 25 teams, Dan Devine 17-10 and Ara Parseghian 14-11-3....This is a VERY important game for Weis and his staff, and the ND team. A win today will give the Irish some creditability as a 5-1 team. A narrow loss will not not hurt a lot, however, a one-sided defeat will doom the Irish for the remainder of the season as a team under consideration for a major bowl game. Also, a one-sided loss should also end Weis's coaching career at ND. My pick, as it was in my Sept. 5 preview, USC. By the way, USC is favored by 10.