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Irish anxious to take on Trojans

Justin Schuver | Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Like a kid waiting for Christmas, the Irish have been waiting for Saturday’s game against No. 1 Southern California for a long time.

With the bye week over, the team can now focus on trying to end the season on a positive note heading into its bowl game, especially after having lost its final homegame of the season 41-38 to Pittsburgh on Nov. 13.

“It’s a great rivalry, and they’re number one on top right now, and it kind of pumps us up a little more,” Irish quarterback Brady Quinn said. “It’s a challenge [to be the underdog against USC], it’s more motivation and I think that we will need to play our best game.

We have beat some top ranked teams (Michigan and Tennessee) and showed that we can hang with anybody.”

The Trojans are by far the top offensive team on Notre Dame’s schedule in 2004. Led by offensive coordinator Norm Chow, USC has the nation’s seventh-best scoring offense at 37.1 points a game.

With a Heisman contender in Matt Leinart at quarterback and a pair of punishing running backs in Reggie Bush and LenDale White, the Trojans have proven to be one of the most dominating all-around offensive teams in the country – the Trojans throw for 255.3 yards a game and rush for 179.5 yards per game.

“They have many great weapons, and the quarterback [Matt Leinart] has great speed,” Irish linebacker Mike Goolsby said. “[Reggie] Bush is a hard guy to cover especially for a linebacker, but the thing we have to keep in mind is where he is going, he will beat us in a foot race.

“The best thing to do is to get a handle on what they are trying to do.”

Yet for all of the Trojans’ offensive success this season, USC’s real weapon might be an underrated and under-advertised defense. USC’s defense is the second-best in the nation in scoring average, allowing 11.6 points per game and giving up more than 20 points in one game this season, against Stanford in a 31-28 Trojans victory on Sept. 25.

“The front four is very athletic and comes off the ball hard,” Quinn said of the USC defense. “They get in the passing lanes a lot and the defensive backs stick on the receivers and have great speed.

“You try to get long drives. Move the ball and have the ball for a long time, keep the ball out of their hands by not turning it over and just keeping time of possession in our favor.”

While USC is ranked No. 1 in the BCS as well as both human polls, the Trojans are certainly not invincible. Stanford led USC by 11 points at the half, and California managed a first-and-goal late in the fourth quarter but could not get into the end zone for a winning touchdown as it fell to USC 23-17 on Oct. 9.

“You have to give Leinart as many looks as possible, move around and keep the offense off-balance,” Goolsby said of how the Irish needed to play to have success against the Trojans in the same way that California and Stanford did. “Both [California and Stanford] came in fired up and never gave up. Those teams took a similar attitude as we did to Tennessee.

The Irish have even more reason to be pumped for Saturday’s game, as both recent contests between the two teams have been decisive USC victories. The Trojans defeated Notre Dame 44-13 in 2002, and the Irish were routed 45-14 last season.But the Irish aren’t living in the past.

“[We] never dwell on it, those games are in the past, and we must just move forward and attack this game,” Irish defensive end Kyle Budinscak said.