Roundtable: USC vs. Notre Dame

With freshman Max Wittek starting on Saturday, USC will need to establish the run in order to beat Notre Dame. Cal Sport Media/AP Images

Max Wittek can play a big role in the USC-ND rivalry in his first extended action. Who is your all-time unsung hero in this rivalry?

Garry Paskwietz: Sammy Knight. In 1996, the Trojans were losing, 14-6, to the Irish in the fourth quarter when Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus hit Malcolm Johnson with a pass near the USC goal line. A score there and the Irish probably go on to win, but Knight made the play of the day when he stripped the ball from behind and recovered inside the 5-yard line. USC drove the length of the field to tie the game and went on to win, 27-20, in overtime to break a 13-year winless streak against the Irish.

Greg Katz: My favorite unsung hero would be linebacker David Lewis in the 1974 comeback game. Lewis made a tremendous tackle on Mark McLane on the Trojans' kickoff following Anthony Davis legendary 102-yard scoring kickoff return. The hit by Lewis brought the Coliseum crowd to its feet.

Johnny Curren: Mark Cusano. An athletic linebacker from Texas, Cusano was always clutch in the USC-Notre Dame game. In 1996, as a sophomore, he batted down a Ron Powlus pass to seal a Trojans victory that ended a 13-game skid in the rivalry. In 1997, his fourth-quarter interception set up USC’s game-winning field goal. And in 1998, he came up with another pick in a 10-0 Trojans shutout.

What's one key for the USC offense against the Notre Dame defense?

GP: Wittek needs to be a positive contributor. This will require Wittek to be given a chance to succeed in that role by coach Lane Kiffin. It also requires Wittek to play well when given that opportunity. If those two things happen, it will prevent the Irish from completely focusing on the USC run game.

GK: No turnovers. The Trojans need to stay aggressive but be wise in how much rope they will give Wittek. Lane Kiffin will have to bring his “A” game to make Wittek effective but not a liability.

JC: With Wittek under center, the Trojans will need to get the rushing attack going to take some pressure off of the inexperienced redshirt freshman. The Fighting Irish currently rank No. 5 in the nation against the run, so it certainly won’t be easy, but it’s hard to imagine Wittek doing too much on his own in this one without some support. The play of the offensive line, as well as Curtis McNeal, will be key.

What's one key for the USC defense against the Notre Dame offense?

GP: Pressure the quarterback. The Notre Dame offensive line has only allowed 15 sacks this year and, even with that, the performance from the quarterback spot has been shaky. If the Trojans can apply good pressure -- USC is No. 4 in the nation in sacks -- that could go a long way in limiting the Irish offense.

GK: Don't let Irish quarterback Everett Golson do in his spread offense what UCLA’s Brett Hundley did in his. If Golson isn’t contained, the Trojans will be in trouble.

JC: Shut down the Notre Dame ground game. The Notre Dame offense relies heavily upon a rushing attack that averages 200 yards per game, so the Trojans will need a strong performance by their front seven. By limiting the effectiveness of the ground game, the pressure would then be placed on Golson, who despite some strong outings as of late, has had his share of ups and downs in 2012.

Which senior makes the biggest impact in this game?

GP: Curtis McNeal. The Irish run defense is good, but McNeal won’t back down and what a fitting end it would be for his career if he could be the ground force that helps leads the way for the USC victory. He gained 118 yards on 24 carries last year against Notre Dame and he’s been on a roll in recent weeks after being inserted back into the starting lineup.

GK: If the Trojans can mount a running game, I'll go with McNeal, who brings it every game and can be counted upon. If McNeal can run for more than 120 yards, the Trojans could be in position for the upset.

JC: McNeal. With Silas Redd limited, McNeal has seized the opportunity at running back and literally run with it, amassing 324 yards on the ground over the past two games. With a young quarterback in Wittek at the helm of the Trojans’ offense, I expect Kiffin to lean heavily on his veteran ball carrier for stability and production.

What the headline will be at the conclusion of this game?

GP: “Lee, Lee, Lee, Lee, Lee”

USC running back/kick returner Anthony Davis had six touchdowns against the Irish in 1972 and the headline in the Los Angeles Times the next day read “Davis, Davis, Davis, Davis, Davis, Davis”. Marqise Lee may not get six, but he will get five as the Trojans win the game.

GK: “Irish eyes are Florida smiling”

JC: “Irish start fast, fend off Trojan comeback”

While I expect the Trojans to do better against the Fighting Irish than most people are predicting, it’s hard to go with a USC team that has been so inconsistent over the last month in all three phases. The Trojans have had a knack for starting slow and falling behind early, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again this weekend.