A fall classic with some real meaning this season as the Trojans travel to South Bend, Indiana to take on Notre Dame. The home team hopes to knock off the #26 ranked Trojans and keep their BCS hopes alive. A loss for USC and they will be completely eliminated from the hunt for the national title. This game has a lot for everyone; big time quarterbacks, game breaking receivers, bone shattering defensive backs and plenty of players on the lines of scrimmage. It also offers nearly a half-dozen potential first round picks, most coming from the USC side of the ball.
Match-up: Jimmy Clausen vs Taylor Mays
This is a match-up made in heaven for NFL scouts.
Jimmy Clausen, the big armed pocket passer of Notre Dame that’s always shown incredible potential against Taylor Mays, a big time free safety and intimidating presence in centerfield for the Trojans. Both are first round picks. Each is likely to end up in the first half of the frame. The pair have a lot to gain in this match-up.
On his behalf Clausen is watching his draft stock rise. His accuracy is better and his decision making has improved by leaps and bounds this season. There’s not to much indecision in Clausen’s game as he’s showing terrific poise and leadership commanding the offense for the Irish. Clausen has had issues competing on the road, something which scouts are cautious about. Regardless, he has all the makings of a starting NFL quarterback and though not the finished product, some believe he’ll be a top ten choice if he opts for the NFL after this season.
Mays is a combination of many things as the Trojans free safety. He’s got great size (6′3”/236lbs) with the speed (4.50) to compliment. Some would argue Mays is too large for the safety spot and would be much better off at outside linebacker. His playing style seems to dictate he’d be best in a zone system as Mays is aggressive in all aspects of the game but really best up the field and struggles quickly getting to the sidelines.
The ability of Mays to help out in coverage as Clausen throws fade and corner patterns to Golden Tate will be something to watch out for. Clausen must show he can adapt to the different looks thrown at him by Pete Carroll and lead his offense against the sixth ranked team in the nation.
Match-up: Notre Dame’s offensive line vs Pete Carroll’s scheme
The Irish have three draftable senior prospects on their offensive line.
Offensive tackle Sam Young has gotten most of the headlines the past few seasons and was rated the highest of the trio coming into the season. We feel he’s the most overrated. Young has had a lot of struggles this season and is constantly getting beat. If he has a future in the NFL it’ll strictly be on the right/strong side.
Paul Duncan is bigger than Young but struggles against athletic opponents and for such a large man, plays soft at times displaying a very disappointing anchor. He’s got some upside based on his size and will get looks late in the draft.
Guard Eric Olson could be the long term gem of this group. He’s a hard working blocker that effectively controls opponents at the point of attack and plays with a nasty streak. If he can improve his run blocking Olson has a future at the next level.
USC has an inexperienced front seven after losing seven players to the NFL last April.
The leading prospect up front is junior Everson Griffen, an athletic defensive end whom the Trojans use at tackle. Griffen is explosive and fluid. He string’s plays out to the flanks and offers big time potential.
USC does not have the raw talent to generate a pass rush so Pete Carroll must manufacture one using a lot of blitzes and games up front. The ability of Notre Dame’s three senior offensive linemen to handle the different looks, as well as quarterback Jimmy Clausen, will be something scouts are focused on.
Match-up: Safety Kyle McCarthy vs. Damian Williams
Kyle McCarthy is a player on the rise as his stock has shot straight north since September. A devastating hitter who lays it on the line, McCarthy has made a number of game saving plays this season which has helped secure several of Notre Dame’s four wins. He’s also a special teams demon and usually one of the first players down the field on coverage units.
McCarthy has proto-typical safety size at 5′11.5”/211lbs. His speed of 4.55 is a slight concern and although he’s made strides with his ball skills this season, McCarthy’s coverage skills are still not on an NFL level.
He’ll be challenged Saturday by one of the nation’s top game breaking receivers.
Junior Damian Williams has been a dominant force on the USC defense since transferring from Arkansas. He possesses home run hitting speed which he uses to stretch the defense vertically at receiver or break games wide open as a return specialist. Williams torched a good Cal secondary for eight receptions and 101 yards two weeks ago.
He’s very natural in all aspects of the position and has enough size to be a number one wide out for an NFL team. If Williams enters the draft, a likely possibility, he could be the first receiver selected.
Can McCarthy contain and cover Williams? Will Williams fearlessly go over the middle knowing he could be cut in two by McCarthy? It will be fun to watch.
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