Saturday's meeting between Notre Dame and USC will mark the 87th installment between the two teams. The Irish are 5-1 and have played well given the big injuries the team has suffered this year. We talked with Patrick Burns, a writer from One Foot Down, to get his insight about the Irish program.
1) What is your assessment of Brian Kelly in his 6 years with the program? Whats his biggest strength and weakness?
I think the biggest strength that Brian Kelly has is his ability to bring stability back to the Notre Dame program. From both a culture and personnel standpoint, this team is built with a clear focus and each piece is put in place deliberately. A great example of this is the injuries that have been suffered this season -- in most other years at Notre Dame, this many injuries would mean disaster as weak backups entered the game. This year, however, the true depth of the Notre Dame team has come to the forefront. Not only is it quality depth, it's the same style of player. No longer do we have a Tommy Rees backing up an Everett Golson. When Malik Zaire went down against Virginia, Deshone Kizer came right in and the offense remained almost identical. From top to bottom, this is a solid team due to Brian Kelly's ability to direct the program.
Kelly's biggest weakness, in my opinion, is the attention to detail for little things. Obviously this is just an observation and may have nothing to do with Coach Kelly at all, but turnovers at bad times, team going down quickly, etc. seem like a systemic issue as they crop up occasionally every year. It's probably more of an "it happens to everyone, but I notice it more with my team" than anything, but that's what sticks with me. The other complaint is usually that he passes the ball too much, but that's ND fans for you.
2) C.J. Prosise has come out of nowhere to be one of the nation’s top running backs. What does he do so well?
CJ's best asset is definitely his feet. He remains patient waiting for holes to open up and when they do, he can make all the moves he needs to get there. He can operate at full speed in tight spaces, and tends to get one or two yards that aren't there on every carry. He's playing himself into a job on Sundays at the rate he is playing this season.
3) Will Fuller is a big-play threat for the Irish. How can USC slow him down?
Clemson actually had some good success stopping Fuller -- in addition to the rain, they doubled Fuller on most snaps, and only let him have the short stuff when they didn't double him. The only way to slow Fuller down is to keep him in front of you, but when he starts catching comebacks for 12 yards a catch, not creeping up gets hard for most college corners.
4) How does Notre Dame plan to stop the USC passing attack?
That is a great question -- the secondary has been the apparent weak point of the Notre Dame defense this season, and they have yet to really put it all together for a game. If we continue to play the way we have all season, then we will trust our corners in man coverage pretty often and try to confuse Kessler and the USC offensive line with Brian Van Gorder's extensive blitzing package. However, after last season where blitzing didn't go well, I personally would like to see us line up and play some basic zone defense (at least more than normal) to take some pressure off of our secondary. I fully expect that not to be the case and the Irish to give up several big plays to Adoree Jackson and JuJu Schuster-Smith on Saturday.
5) Score prediction.
This is a tough one to call, as I don't have a feel for USC's team leadership -- will they pull together with backs against the wall following the events of this week, or will they play for themselves with nothing really to fight for? I tend to lean toward the former more than the latter, and think this will be a very close game. Both offenses are very strong and efficient, and both defenses leave a bit to be desired. I think the edge will go to the Irish playing at home at night with a crazy crowd behind them. More points will be scored than 2012, but I think we'll have just as hard fought of a game.
ND 31 - USC 27
Thanks to Patrick for answering the questions and you can read all about Notre Dame football at One Foot Down.