What is the key matchup of the game?
Garry Paskwietz: I’ll go with the USC defensive line against the Fighting Irish offensive line. Notre Dame has allowed a total of only four sacks this season, a mark than ranks No. 5 in the country. The Trojans, meanwhile, are averaging three sacks per game, ranking No. 13. Something has to give in this department. USC will be looking to put pressure on Tommy Rees and protect a corner spot that has proved to be vulnerable lately. Notre Dame will be hoping that Rees can improve upon his 41.7 completion percentage over the last three games.
Johnny Curren: USC rushing offense vs. Notre Dame rushing defense. The Trojans average an impressive 200.3 yards per game on the ground, and the play of the tailbacks has been a huge bright spot. So while the passing game has made great strides as of late, I still think the key to the success of the USC offense this weekend will lie in its ability to establish a strong rushing attack. But it won’t be easy, the Fighting Irish defense ranks No. 23 nationally against the run -- allowing just 122.3 yards per game -- thanks in large part to a hulking defensive line headlined by Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III. The Trojans offensive line will need to get a good push going against the talented unit, and Silas Redd and Co. will need to have another strong outing for USC to come away with a victory.
Greg Katz: The key matchup is the Trojans offensive line versus a tough Notre Dame defensive line because the Men of Troy have to establish the run to control the ball, the pace of the game, and shorten the clock, all of which will keep the Irish offense off the field and away from the vulnerable USC secondary.
Who will be the big-time player to make the key play in this rivalry game?
Garry Paskwietz: Silas Redd. I don’t know if Redd and the offensive line are getting enough credit for that final drive against Arizona. The ability to close out a game on the ground is not something that has come easy to the Trojans in recent years, but the drive showcased the kind of big-boy running that Redd brings to the table. In no game will that trait be needed more than this one, and here’s guessing that Redd makes his presence felt in a memorable way.
Johnny Curren: Nelson Agholor. While the Fighting Irish are stout against the run, they’ve been picked apart at times by capable passing attacks, allowing an average of 252.2 passing yards per game -- the No. 87 mark nationally. With that in mind, I think that there is a significant opportunity for Agholor to come up with some big plays at wide out, particularly with Clay Helton appearing to have placed a greater emphasis on having Cody Kessler throw vertically than Lane Kiffin did.
Greg Katz: Assuming they’re both healthy, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Marqise Lee should have success against the Irish secondary if the offensive line can give Cody Kessler some time to look down field. Now, if you’re looking for a hidden surprise, it wouldn’t shock me if freshman receiver Darreus Rogers had a big game.
Which was the bigger moment: Fourth-and-9 or Bush Push?
Garry Paskwietz: I have literally gone back and forth on this one. At first I wrote out an answer for fourth-and-9, then I changed it to the Bush Push, now I’m going back to fourth-and-9. The Bush Push was awesome -- it was the dramatic game-clinching play with Leinart falling backwards, with help from a friend, into the end zone. But for pure emotion, a true edge-of-your-seat moment, I don’t think you can beat fourth-and-9. That was the moment where all of a sudden everything was on the line, the win streak, the three-time national championship dream, all of it. USC needed one play amidst chaos. And the Trojans delivered.
Johnny Curren: Fourth-and-9. Without Dwayne Jarrett’s clutch catch, there is no Bush Push, period. It was a phenomenal play, not just because of the fact that it was the perfect call, or because of the tremendous athleticism and determination shown by the lanky wideout, but because it dealt a devastating blow to the psyche of the Fighting Irish defense. Meanwhile, Matt Leinart and the USC offense fed off of the energy and renewed hope created by the play, using the momentum to ultimately carry themselves into the Notre Dame end zone.
Greg Katz: The bigger moment was 4th and 9 because without the audible by quarterback Matt Leinart and the perfect pass placement and then brilliant reception by receiver Dwayne Jarrett, there would never have been a Bush Push.