Notre Dame has its biggest game of the season next week when it travels to Southern California to take on USC. A win will give the Fighting Irish a perfect regular season and its best chance at playing for a BCS title.
That’s why, after UCLA’s 38-28 victory over the Trojans, the Irish have to really break down what the Bruins did so that they can preserve their BCS title hopes.
For starters, and probably the easiest for the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame must match UCLA’s defensive intensity.
UCLA put constant pressure on USC quarterback Matt Barkley, forcing two interceptions while sacking the senior quarterback once. One of those interceptions was returned for a touchdown, which set the tone for the game.
Notre Dame should be able to put even more pressure on Barkley, which should result in forcing more turnovers, as it has picked off 14 passes this year. The leader of this Irish squad in interceptions is the Heisman hopeful, linebacker Manti Te’o, with six.
Secondly, Notre Dame must expose a USC secondary that’s allowing receivers to catch 22 passes per game, average 242 yards per game and catch a total of 17 touchdowns. UCLA did this by having six different receivers catch 22 passes for 234 yards and one score.
UCLA’s Shaquelle Evans was the biggest beneficiary of the porous Trojan secondary, catching eight passes for 114 yards.
On top of exposing the Trojans’ secondary, the Irish must run the ball down USC’s throat.
UCLA ran the ball 50 times against USC for a total of 172 yards and four scores.
Notre Dame has averaged 198.7 yards per game, and in its tune-up before USC against Wake Forest, the Fighting Irish as a team gained 221 yards with two touchdowns.
And finally, Notre Dame must take away from UCLA’s win that it has to get a lead early. As mentioned above, UCLA took a Barkley interception in for a touchdown on the first passing attempt to get ahead, 7-0.
After the first quarter, UCLA had a 17-0 lead.
In two of USC’s other three losses, the Trojans allowed their opponent to score first, forcing the Trojans to play catchup.
Arizona jumped out to a 10-0 lead after the first quarter, and Oregon had a 14-3 lead after the opening quarter.
Notre Dame must take away from each of these games that it has to force the Trojans to abandon their game plan to make up for being down after one quarter.
If the Fighting Irish can stick to these three learning tools, they will keep their BCS hopes alive and finish the regular season at a perfect 12-0.