USC Trojans: NCF Next Level

Notre Dame concedes very little on defense

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
12:05
PM PT
Matthew EmmonsWith one more win, Manti Te'o (right) and Notre Dame will play for the right to be No. 1.

(USC hosts Notre Dame on Saturday at 8 ET on ABC.)

If the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can win on the road against the USC Trojans. History could, again, repeat itself.

Four different head coaches have been responsible for Notre Dame's eight national championships in the AP poll era (since 1936). All four captured their first national title in their third season at Notre Dame, and head coach Brian Kelly is in his third season at the helm in South Bend.

Notre Dame is one win from playing for the BCS title thanks in larger part to its defense. The Irish have conceded a touchdown on 6.7 percent of their opponents’ possessions, the lowest percentage in FBS this season.

Notre Dame’s red-zone defense also is the best in the nation, allowing a touchdown on 24.1 percent of their opponents’ drives inside the 20-yard line. (Opponents have seven touchdowns and five turnovers in 29 red-zone possessions.) That’s the lowest percentage for any FBS team in the last eight seasons.

The defense is led by senior linebacker Manti Te’o. With two more tackles, Te’o will join Bob Crable as the second Notre Dame player with three 100-tackle seasons. Te’o also leads the Irish with six interceptions after not having any in his first three seasons.

Notre Dame’s defense will be tested one more time, this time by one of the best wide receivers in the country. USC’s Marqise Lee has more receiving yards (821) in his last four games than 52 FBS teams during that time span. Lee has gained more yards after the catch (837) than any player from any BCS-AQ school, and leads FBS with eight 100-yard receiving games. However, only one player this season has 100 yards receiving against Notre Dame: Jalen Saunders from Oklahoma.

However, Lee will not have Matt Barkley throwing to him – the senior QB will not play because of a sprained shoulder. Since 2002, USC’s only loss to Notre Dame came in 2010 when Barkley (then a sophomore) had a sprained ankle and did not play.

Without Barkley, USC might turn to its running game. The Trojans are averaging 160 rushing yards per game, and has gained 10 yards or more on almost 17 percent of their rush attempts. Curtis McNeal has 324 yards in USC’s last two games, but he’ll face a Notre Dame defense that has allowed just three running backs to rush for 80 or more yards this season.

Why teams should not blitz Matt Barkley

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
10:43
AM PT
1. Matt Barkley has thrown 119 consecutive passes against five or more pass-rushers without an interception -- a streak that dates to Sept. 24 of last season. During that time, Barkley has thrown 18 touchdowns when opponents blitz, including four games with at least three touchdown passes. The first of those four games was against Stanford last year in Week 7, Barkley's second career three-touchdown game against the Cardinal blitz. Overall, Barkley has thrown 37 touchdowns and three interceptions against blitzes since the start of his sophomore season.

2. UL Monroe faces Auburn on Saturday after pulling off a stunning upset of Arkansas last week. In the process, the Warhawks can achieve something that hasn't been done in 24 years. The last team not currently in a BCS-AQ conference to beat SEC opponents in consecutive games was Tulane in 1988. In 1988, the Green Wave beat Ole Miss on Nov. 5 and then knocked off Mississippi State. Memphis pulled off a similar feat just a few weeks earlier in 1988, beating Mississippi State and Florida in consecutive games.

3. Alabama begins its SEC slate this week at Arkansas. On the field, Alabama has won 20 straight SEC openers, with its last loss coming in 1991 to Florida. (Note: Some of those games have since been vacated or forfeited.) How impressive is that? Not only is it the longest current win streak in conference openers, but it beats the next highest by eight. Boise State has won 12 straight conference openers dating to 2000, accomplishing that in three different conferences. The Broncos open their 2012 conference schedule on Sept. 29 at New Mexico.

4. Last week against Air Force, Denard Robinson had more total yards (426) than the entire Michigan team (422). One big reason for this was Robinson’s 218 rushing yards. The remainder of the team had minus-4. While this seems like it would be a rarity, it isn’t. In fact, he wasn’t even the only player to accomplish this last week (Temple’s Chris Coyer). Since 2004, it’s happened 25 times, and the only player to do it twice over that stretch? Indiana’s Kellen Lewis in 2007.

5. Michigan State soared into the AP Top 10 this week, and that could be bad news for its opponent this week. Notre Dame has lost nine straight games against AP Top 10 teams by an average of more than 15 points per game. The last time the Fighting Irish beat a team in the top 10 was 2005, when they knocked off No. 3 Michigan. The nine-game losing streak is the longest in Notre Dame history. The previous longest was seven games spanning 1984-86.

Matt Barkley making most of short throws

September, 11, 2012
9/11/12
1:41
PM PT
In order to win a Heisman Trophy, candidates must find a way to separate themselves from the competition. One amazing performance can vault a player into the national spotlight, and one bad game can end a player’s Heisman aspirations.

In Week 2, there were several outstanding performances by potential Heisman Trophy candidates, led once again by USC’s senior quarterback.

Matt Barkley had 187 yards passing and threw a school-record six touchdowns in USC’s 42-29 victory over Syracuse.

Barkley became the first FBS quarterback in the last 12 seasons to throw at least six touchdown passes with less than 200 yards passing in a game. Barkley has 20 touchdown passes in his last four games, six more than any other player in FBS during that span. He kept his passes short in a stormy MetLife Stadium, averaging a career-low 3.7 air yards per attempt. USC’s receivers turned these short passes into big gains with 137 yards coming after the catch -- the 10th straight game that the Trojans gained 100 yards after the catch.

With his play the first two weeks of this season, UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin has vaulted himself into the Heisman discussion.

Franklin had 217 rushing yards on 26 attempts in the Bruins’ 36-30 upset of Nebraska. It was his second consecutive 200-yard rushing game and third of his career. Franklin’s 215.5 rushing yards per game leads FBS this season. In fact, he’s averaging more than 90 teams. Franklin leads FBS with six runs that gained 20 yards or more, and is one of two players with two touchdown runs of at least 60 yards.

Ohio State’s Braxton Miller accounted for a career-high four touchdowns (three rushing, one passing) and 296 yards in Ohio State’s 31-16 win against UCF. Miller gained 141 yards on the ground, his second-straight 100-yard game and seventh of his career. Only Terrelle Pryor has more 100-yard games rushing than Miller among Ohio State quarterbacks. Miller gained a career-high 106 rushing yards inside the tackles, including two touchdowns. After averaging 4.6 yards per rush between the tackles last season, Miller is averaging 7.2 yards in 2012.

After being kept in check by Alabama, Denard Robinson was back to making plays with his arm and his legs.

In Michigan’s 31-25 win over Air Force, he completed 14-of-25 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, he had 20 carries for 218 yards and two more touchdowns. It was his third career game with at least 200 rushing yards and at least 200 passing yards, the most among all FBS players since 2000. Robinson gained 211 of his 218 rushing yards on 19 designed-running plays. During Michigan’s Week 1 loss to Alabama, the Wolverines called only six designed-running plays for Robinson, who gained 25 yards.

Drop from top puts Trojans in rare spot

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
12:36
PM PT
Trojans slip from top spot is rare
The last time a No. 1 ranked team won by more than 35 points and allowed 10 or fewer and fell from the top spot was 1974, when Notre Dame beat Northwestern 49-3. Ohio State jumped from No. 2 to No. 1 after a 51-10 win over Oregon State.

USC is the eighth team to win by more than 35 points, allow 10 or fewer and fall from No. 1 (and the first to do so in their opener).

Tide look to roll after Week 1 ascension
If Alabama is to stay atop the AP Poll for the remainder of the season, it would be the first team in 40 years to ascend to No. 1 in the first regular season AP Poll and run the table. In 1972, USC took over the top spot after the first week from Nebraska and won the national championship.

The only other time it happened since the preseason poll began in 1950 was in 1971 when Notre Dame was the preseason No. 1, but was overtaken by Nebraska after the first week.

Savannah State looks to avoid dubious mark
Savannah State takes on Florida State this week after giving up 84 points to Oklahoma State. Could the Seminoles reach the 80-point mark this week? It would certainly be a rarity.

The only team in major college football to ever allow 80-or-more points in consecutive games was Samford in 1920. That year, the Bulldogs dropped an 88-0 decision to Auburn, then lost 120-0 to Centre (Ky.) the next week.

Post-Keenum era starts with whimper for Houston
Houston managed just 13 points against Texas State last week after leading the nation in scoring a year ago with 49.3 points per game. That's not good, but won't get the Cougars into the record books.

The fewest points in an opener for a team that led the nation in scoring the previous year was seven, by Colorado in 1938. The last such team to score as few as 13 in an opener was Oklahoma in 2009 after leading the nation in scoring in 2008.

Price is right when Huskies go downfield
Washington's Keith Price completed one of his five passes thrown 15 yards or longer in Week 1 against San Diego State. It was the rare game that the Huskies won in which Price struggled on these throws.

The Huskies are 5-1 since the start of last season when Price completes at least 50 percent of his 15-yard throws and 2-6 when he does not. He will be put to the test Saturday against an LSU defense that allows opponents to complete 18.5 percent of their throws of 15 yards or longer since the start of last season, including just one completion in 24 attempts by non-SEC opponents.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Friday, 9/5
Saturday, 9/6