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Trojan receivers will test Irish defense

Mike Gilloon | Friday, October 14, 2005

USC’s 41-10 blowout of Notre Dame last season showed two teams seemingly spiraling in opposite directions.

The Trojans, led by Heisman winning quarterback Matt Leinart, rolled through a porous Irish defense that looked helpless against the USC receivers.

But despite the hiring of head coach Charlie Weis and a 4-1 Irish record, Notre Dame is still surrendering 305.6 yards per game. The Irish feel, though, that they aren’t the same team that faced the Trojans last season. They feel they have a chance.

“[Last year in the second half USC] started passing the ball more, they started spreading us out, and I don’t think we had the correct defensive calls or coverages all the time last year and I think that exploited our weaknesses,” Irish defensive end Chris Frome said. “But obviously this year I think we are a different team on defense. I think we’re a much better team.”

The Irish will need to be better. Leinart is completing 65.1 percent of his passes and leading an offense that scores an average of 51.6 points per game.

According to Irish defensive backs coach/ assistant head coach Bill Lewis, Leinart’s accuracy is what makes him such a threat.

“We’ve studied every play this season,” Lewis said. “There’s one word as you look at the whole package: he’s accurate. He gets the ball out on time, he anticipates and he gets the ball in the right spot.”

Irish free safety Chinedum Ndukwe, who was on the field last season when USC burned Notre Dame for 405 yards through the air, is certainly wary of Leinart’s and his teammates’ abilities.

“With Michigan we had three guys we were keying on – [wide receiver Steve] Breaston, [quarterback Chad] Henne and [running back Mike] Hart,” Ndukwe said. “But [now] we’ve got six guys that can score at any time, so it’s a little bit different. They’ve got a whole bunch of different options to go to and different angles you have to always make sure you cover.”

Besides running back Reggie Bush, who has 13 receptions this season, USC’s Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith are the two most dangerous receivers on the team. Jarrett has 35 grabs and nine touchdowns, while Smith is averaging 21.3 yards per catch.

“It’s not just Bush you have to be aware of,” Ndukwe said. “You got to be aware of … everybody. They’ve got a lot of different players.”

Even fullback David Kirtman is averaging 14.1 yards per catch on 12 receptions. Thirteen different Trojans have caught passes through five games.

The variety of weapons in the Trojans’ arsenal is impressive to Lewis. But he also believes what pushes USC above its competition is its talent plus the coaching it receives.

“When you look at their receivers, they all run well,” Lewis said. “They’re also big, physical people. But the third thing is … they are extremely well coached, and that is very obvious in every game tape that you watch.”