USC and Its Receivers Will Give Notre Dame More Trouble Than Oklahoma

Lisa HornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterOctober 30, 2012

Robert Woods and Marqise Lee
Robert Woods and Marqise LeeSteven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE

So this is what we know right now: Notre Dame looks like a world beater, and USC doesn't. If only these two teams could go back to the days of yore when they both looked like world beaters in the same season. 

But before we all just presumptively hand Notre Dame the Jeweled Shillelagh, let's point out what may keep Notre Dame from winning its looming showdown with USC: the dynamic duo of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.

Last week in USC's 39-36 loss to Arizona, Marqise Lee had 16 catches for 345 yards, two touchdowns and three kickoff returns for 123 yards. That's 468 total yards from one player.

Lee is a nightmare for a defensive coordinator watching game film.  

Should Notre Dame be worried about its pass defense? Yes, yes it should.

The Fighting Irish are averaging almost 390 yards per game on offense, and their defense is yielding an average of 293 yards per game. That's a pretty solid offense and a stingy defense.

USC is averaging around 446 yards of offense per game, and its defense is yielding an average 366 yards. That's a spectacular offense and a shaky defense.

While Notre Dame played outstanding defense against Oklahoma in its 30-13 victory over the Sooners, Notre Dame also gave up 364 yards of offense through the air. Receiver Jalen Saunders torched Notre Dame's secondary with 15 catches for 181 yards.

Saunders is a great receiver, but Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are more of a threat to Notre Dame. Lee is ranked No. 2 in reception yardage, averaging over 141 yards per game. Woods doesn't have nearly the same reception yardage as Lee, but he's just as talented. 

Notre Dame could go ahead and put two men on Lee, but that leaves Woods with less coverage. Notre Dame could play a zone coverage to try and keep the receivers in front of its secondary, but what Marqise Lee does after he catches the ball is the most exciting part of the play. He's made two, three or even four would-be tacklers look like Keystone cops (see video).

USC has played both poorly and great at various times, but its problems seem to be not for lack of talent. No, USC's biggest problem is its complete lack of discipline—give it up for the most penalized team in the country, folks—and its tendency to take the pedal of the gas when it has the lead in a game. 

USC hasn't played one complete game this season—sorry, Colorado doesn't count—against a team with a pulse. Conversely, the Fighting Irish have a very strong pulse, and they would like to remind the Trojans that they are currently standing in the way of their march toward a BCS championship.

The Trojans are going to be playing the spoiler role against Notre Dame, a position they probably didn't think they would be in this far into the season. But the Rose Bowl is still in play, and Pasadena has always been their destination of choice. To get there, they're going to have to play nearly perfect football against the No. 4 Fighting Irish. 

If Matt Barkley is "off" and overthrowing his receivers, Notre Dame's secondary will have some breathing room. But if Barkley is "on," the Irish secondary will have to result to interference to stop USC's dynamic duo.

Or, they could blitz a lot. Linebacker Manti Te'o sacking quarterback Matt Barkley before he can play toss and catch with Woods and Lee is probably not a bad idea. 

Still, Notre Dame better be on alert: Woods and Lee are playing on an entirely different level.