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Irish Insider: Trojans prepare for Irish offense

Bill Brink | Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It was very diplomatic of Pete Carroll, head coach of a squad that allows 8.6 points and 64.8 rushing yards per game, to show concern for Notre Dame’s offensive attack.

But in his press conference Tuesday, he acknowledged the challenge the Irish offense presents, especially the versatility of wide receiver Golden Tate.

“He’s a bigger, stronger, more physical guy with the ball in his hands,” Carroll said. “They’ve used him all over. We just have to keep track of him and know their tendencies when he moves. They’ve done a very good job of utilizing their special guys. He’s a beneficiary of that.”

The Trojans come to town to face an Irish team considered to have one of the better chances in recent history of breaking USC’s seven-game winning streak. The Trojans have ridden their defense this season: They have not allowed more than 15 points in a game and have held opponents to six or less in three out of five games. They have 21 sacks and game-changing playmakers in linebacker Chris Galippo and safety Taylor Mays. Defensive lineman Armond Armstead is expected to return this week after breaking his foot during fall camp.

Carroll said he understood how excited the team and the campus would be and that the Irish, who have faced adversity in three straight games and pulled them all out, present a tough match-up.

“This is the hottest Notre Dame team we’ve seen in a few years,” Carroll said. “They’ve had an extraordinary start to the season with great wins and drama everywhere. When we arrive on campus there on Friday I’m sure we’ll have a nice little crowd to welcome us.”

The team will leave Thursday instead of Friday, Carroll said, to get situated.

To prepare for Tate lining up in different positions, Carroll said he had used running back Curtis McNeal, who most closely resembled Tate’s physical skills, to replicate the Wildcat package. For his play at receiver, Carroll has used various receivers to simulate him.

Almost as troubling to Carroll is the aggressive nature of Jon Tenuta’s blitz-happy Irish defense. The Irish pressure more than they have in the past, he said, creating a risk-reward opportunity for the Trojans.

“It’s just whether or not we’re able to handle the heat that they bring,” he said. “If we can, then we can move the football. If we can’t, then they’re going to control the game and cause some bad plays.”

As Notre Dame gets running back Armando Allen and fullback James Aldridge back from injuries, USC also restocks. Receiver Ronald Johnson, who broke his collarbone at the end of fall practice, should return to the lineup Saturday. He hasn’t had much time to work with freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, and Carroll said the chemistry between the two is nowhere near where it needs to be.

“He’s missed six seven weeks with Ronald and that’s not there right now,” Carroll said. “There’s no way that these guys are as sharp as they will be in time. They’ll be better.”

USC coaches loved Barkley, who entered school during the spring semester after graduating high school early, but gave the starting job to redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp because of his lack of mistakes during spring practice. When Corp fractured his leg during fall camp, however, Barkley snagged the starting job.

In Johnson’s absence, Damian Williams has led the Trojan receivers with 24 catches for 359 yards and a touchdown.

The USC running backs are all capable of starting, but Joe McKnight has established himself as the go-to back. He has 473 yards and six touchdowns, good for 7.1 yards per carry. Still, Carroll said he wasn’t opposed to working the other backs into the game more frequently.

“Joe’s off to a great start this season and been very effective,” he said. “I never had in mind the one-two punch or the one-two-three punch whatever it takes us.”

“I still feel like we’re developing. I still feel like we’re a work in progress. I’m anxious to see how C.J. [Gable] adds in and what Curtis McNeal can do as well.”

Allen Bradford has been next in line behind McKnight, rushing 28 times for 193 yards and a touchdown and averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He has said he needs improvement, and Carroll agreed.

“I think that’s a good assessment from him,” he said. ‘He’s trying to find his style. We really want him to be aggressive and attack the line of scrimmage … He certainly can score and when he’s coming downhill at you he’s a load.”