Matt Gamber | Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The Notre Dame defense has effectively dominated in consecutive blowout victories in the month of November, bucking a number of downward trends that hampered the Irish down the stretch in recent seasons.
Notre Dame (6-5) will have a similar opportunity Saturday, when the Irish attempt to snap an eight-game losing streak against USC at the L.A. Coliseum on Saturday.
The Irish have not beaten the rival Trojans (7-4) since 2001. While a streak-ending victory might serve as the season’s highlight in the minds of fans, Irish coach Brian Kelly said there “will not be one singular game that defines” his first season at Notre Dame.
“We’ll feel better with a win, obviously, and we’ll feel good about the progress we’ve made in November,” Kelly said in a Sunday teleconference. “But the bottom line for us is to continue to move in the right direction, to play with that physical and mental toughness.”
The Irish may get a lift with the potential return of key contributor sophomore wide receiver Theo Riddick. Riddick is listed second on the two-deep depth chart at the slot position. Riddick severely sprained his ankle in Notre Dame’s 44-20 victory over Western Michigan Oct. 16.
The Trojans have also been hit with injuries in recent weeks. Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley suffered a high ankle sprain in Saturday’s loss to Oregon State and could miss the game against Notre Dame. According to the Pasadena Star-News, Kiffin told reporters Sunday he is “extremely hopeful” Barkley would be ready to start, but that the Trojans have a backup plan in Mitch Mustain.
“We’re prepared to start Mitch,” Kiffin said of the redshirt senior, who started as a freshman at Arkansas in 2006 before transferring to USC. “We have great confidence in Mitch. He’s played well for us in scrimmages.”
Barkley has thrown for 2,593 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. In limited action, Mustain has completed 20 of 34 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown.
Regardless of who takes the snaps for the Trojans, he will have a pair of playmakers on the outside in receivers Robert Woods and Ronald Johnson, who have combined for 106 catches for 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
USC boasts a balanced offense that averages 250 passing yards and 192 rushing yards per game. Senior running back Marc Tyler’s 146 carries, 820 yards and nine touchdowns lead a multi-dimensional Trojans run game that will test a Notre Dame defense that has dominated in consecutive weeks.