5 things to watch: USC vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
November, 27, 2010
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Craig Mitchelldyer/US Presswire
He's going to get his shot. Mitch Mustain, after all these years, will start for USC.
Five things to watch:
Which understudy steals the show? Mitch Mustain has a lot more practice time under his belt than Tommy Rees, but USC's fifth-year senior quarterback has barely played in four years. Matt Barkley's ankle injury evened the tables. Both teams will be playing with backup quarterbacks (presuming Barkley doesn't limp off the bench, Willis Reed-like). Mustain won the first eight games he started for Arkansas back in 2006, so the Trojans are hoping he can keep up the magic.
Can Dillon Baxter finally take off? The freshman tailback has been through the ringer this season, most of it self-inflicted. He was suspended for the opener for violating team rules, got in the doghouse for loafing in practice, got hurt, then was ineligible for a game after accepting a golf-cart ride from an agent. Maybe his next act will be to actually make an impact on a game? Against an Irish defense with questionable speed, the Trojans could use Baxter's big-play ability. Look for him to take many of his snaps in the wildcat formation, at quarterback.
Can the Trojans fix the line? It's been an up-and-down season for the USC offensive line. It had its best game against Arizona two weeks ago and its worst game against Oregon State seven days later. Stephen Paea ran amok in the backfield. If the front five clean things up this week, USC probably will win behind a power running game. It looks like an easier assignment than blocking Oregon State's ultra-aggressive defenders.
How hungry is Notre Dame? The way things have gone for the Irish this season, a victory over their archrivals would be a nice pick-me-up. If they're ever going to do it, the time would be now. USC is down, having already lost four games, and without Barkley. If the Irish sense weakness, they could take advantage by snapping an eight-game losing streak to the Trojans.
How hungry is USC? Players don't get nearly as excited about the Notre Dame rivalry as they do about UCLA, which has a roster filled with players they know. Even Lane Kiffin said this rivalry is really for the fans. That raises the question of whether the Trojans will be properly motivated. They fell into a trap at Oregon State, never looked excited to be there and wound up getting blown out. If they don't show a little more emotion and focus this week, they could swallow an even more embarrassing loss, on senior day.