USC: Michael Floyd

Film study: Notre Dame

August, 15, 2012
Here’s the seventh post in our "film study" series.

Every other day from now until Aug. 25, we’re watching one of the games USC played last season and putting up a set of pertinent-to-this-year notes, going of course in chronological order from the Minnesota season opener to the UCLA season finale. At the end, we’ll have one last post with our overall takeaways from the re-watching. By then, it’ll be the week of this year’s opener.

We’ve already done USC’s 19-17 win over Minnesota, 23-14 win over Utah, 38-17 win over Syracuse, 44-23 loss to Arizona State, 48-41 win over Arizona and 30-9 win over Cal. Here, now, are our five notes -- four big things and a bunch of little ones -- from USC’s 31-17 win over Notre Dame on Oct. 22, 2011.

Matt Barkley, NFL quarterback

It might not look all that spectacular in the statistics file, but this was a masterful performance from one Matt Barkley.

The Trojans' signal-caller faced unusual (read: nighttime, loud music, gold helmets) conditions in South Bend and came through with arguably his best game to date. With Marqise Lee playing at less than 100 percent due to an injured shoulder, Barkley targeted Robert Woods again and again and kept finding him open -- or open enough to sneak a throw into him and gain five or six yards.

Barkley also did something he hadn't done all year: He gained legitimate yards on the ground. Four times against the Irish -- and twice on the same play call -- Barkley took off running when he found nobody open and advanced the Trojans' offense. Two of those four rushes went for first downs; the other two came on first downs and resulted in two more firsts later on.

There were certain levels of command and creativity Barkley put on display in this game we hadn't seen from him at the college level. USC's profile began to rise after this win, and so did Barkley's, as it should have.

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Top 10 moments, No. 1: Starling's fumble return

December, 9, 2011
Our series of the top 10 moments of the 2011 USC football season concludes today with No. 1. Catch up on moments Nos. 2-10 here, including more than one Robert Woods touchdown catch and an especially courageous fourth-down call from Lane Kiffin.

Here's our top moment of the year: Jawanza Starling's 80-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Notre Dame.

This one had everything -- big consequences in the game, a crazy scene on the football field and monster long-term implications for the 2011 season as a whole.

Notre Dame was mounting a big comeback from a 17-0 deficit and on the verge of tying the game. Dayne Crist was in at quarterback for the injured Tommy Rees and the Irish had the ball inside the USC five-yard line.

Then Crist dropped the snap from center Braxston Cave and all hell broke loose. Crist dove to try to recover it but was stifled by a combination of teammate Michael Floyd and USC corner Isiah Wiley, who both tried to grab it and knocked it back a good 10 yards.

Starling had it the whole way, video replays show. Coming up from his strong safety slot, he ran directly toward the ball as soon as it fell from Crist's hands. He continued to run as the two Trojans and two Irish fought for it around the 10, and, when it was hit further back, he was in perfect position to grab it on the run.

With Wiley and McDonald flanking him on either side, Starling picked the ball up at the 20 and ran it all the way to the endzone for six. That made it 24-10, Trojans -- a lead the Irish couldn't come back from, although it got pretty close again later on before Chris Galippo recovered a key fumble.

It's funny to watch a number of the Trojans jumping and running along with Starling on the sidelines as he got closer and closer to the end zone. All things considered, this was the play that really turned the Trojans' fortunes around this season and started them on the path to finishing fifth-ranked in the country.

As Lane Kiffin said in his passionate postgame press conference in South Bend afterward, this was when the dark clouds surrounding the program started to move away for the first time.

It didn't erase them entirely, but it clearly started the process.

That concludes our top-10 moment series. Check back next week for the beginning of our top-1o performers series.

5 things to watch: USC-Notre Dame

October, 21, 2011

1. The lights and the rivalry: It's the first time in 21 years they'll be kicking off under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium, as if they needed anything else to help hype up this game. This will certainly do the trick. Neither USC nor Notre Dame are ranked, but both schools are on the cusp of it, and it appears like Saturday's high-stakes game will be fairly well-matched -- even though the Irish are favored by close to 10 points in some sportsbooks. South Bend isn't exactly built for night games, so it will be interesting to see how the Domers handle the unusual late kickoff, in terms of tailgating and the overall atmosphere around the stadium.

NDUSC2. Tyler, McNeal and the running backs: The injured Marc Tyler made the trip to South Bend with the Trojans and is a game-time decision for Saturday's game, but whether or not he's able to play Curtis McNeal is still going to most likely make his first career start. The 5-7, 180-pound back has proven consistently capable of gaining five or six yards per carry this season, and that's exactly what USC will need him to do against an Irish defense that has played quite well for the last month. And who are the Trojans going to use as McNeal's second-stringer if Tyler can't go? It seems like the smart money should be on freshman George Farmer, who made his collegiate debut last week against Cal and fumbled on his fourth carry.

3. Interceptions and turnovers: Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees is certainly a poised player and one with a proven record of leading his team to wins, but another thing he's also proven is that he's liable to throw the occasional interception. USC capitalized on the last turnover-prone quarterback it faced in Cal quarterback Zach Maynard, and that really took the Bears out of the game last week. Can the Trojans do the same against Rees, who hasn't thrown a pick for two straight weeks now, the longest stretch of his career thus far? Their defense functions a heck of a lot better when its producing turnovers, even if it's just one or two a game. If the Irish hang on to the ball, it's hard to envision a scenario where USC outscores them outright and wins the contest.

4. Recruiting implications: There are 16 prospects visiting Notre Dame this weekend, all of whom will be attending the game -- a virtually unprecedented number that will have massive implications for the Irish 2012 recruiting class and potentially USC's as well. Many of the players visiting South Bend are also being recruited by USC and some are considering scheduling official visits with the Trojans. Of course, USC and Notre Dame have done battle on a number of top prospects in the past, and, based off previous years, the winner of this game would presumably get a sizable jump on the loser with those players. Trojans coach Lane Kiffin mentioned this week that Reggie Bush was at the 2002 USC-Notre Dame game at the Coliseum when quarterback Carson Palmer went off for 425 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-13 win. Before that game, Bush had been regarded as a Notre Dame leaner.

5. Floyd vs. Woods: It's one of the best matchups yet this year of two top players at one position going head-to-head. Both players have been prolific this season -- Robert Woods slightly more but Michael Floyd's numbers impressive all the same. Who will do a better job of leading their offense? Woods obviously has a better-regarded quarterback in Matt Barkley delivering him the ball, but Floyd has found success against the Trojans in the past and is coming off a two-game stretch where he's averaged nine catches, 106 yards and a touchdown. And last Thursday's game against Cal was Woods' worst of the season, with the sophomore wideout pulling in just five balls for 36 yards.

Wiley watching and learning

October, 16, 2011

Three weeks ago, USC Trojans cornerback Isiah Wiley was the No. 5 corner on a team that never uses more than three on any given play.

Now, it looks as if he'll be the No. 2 corner against Notre Dame on Saturday, having jumped up over the fallen-out-of-favor Tony Burnett and the injured Anthony Brown and Torin Harris to put himself into position to start in South Bend.

It'll be a challenge -- the Fighting Irish have two talented receivers in Michael Floyd and Theo Riddick, and Wiley will probably be asked to spend a considerable amount of time on Floyd because of the seven-inch height difference between he and Nickell Robey.

But he says he's ready. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Wiley, a junior-college transfer who had essentially only played on special teams before last week's game against California, has watched and re-watched the game tape from last week and is convinced he knows what to do against the Irish.

Or what not to do, really: hesitate. He had two interception opportunities against the Bears but missed out on both of them because he failed to react quickly enough.

"What I've seen from the first game is that the speed is a lot faster than junior-college football," Wiley said. "Basically, I've gotta capitalize on all my interception opportunities and focus on the mental aspects of the game and be ready to make plays when they're presented to me."

He's trying to be ready, of course. But, truth be told, USC doesn't really have that many options. Harris looks like a longshot to play Saturday and Burnett's the only other potential starter, so, unless Wiley struggles mightily in practice this week, he's going to be the guy across from Robey.

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Thursday practice report: Breakdown

November, 25, 2010
Notes, quotes and video from Thursday's practice:
  • Coach Lane Kiffin was again happy with his team's performance in a shorter morning session Thursday -- "another good day, three in a row," he said. He mentioned to his players, he said, how much USC fans care about the rivalry with Notre Dame and the importance in extending what is now an eight-game winning streak against the Irish. He reminded them of "all the hard work those players did before, over these last eight years in the offseason and everything to keep this streak alive, and now it's their turn."
  • Matt Barkley took another step in his recovery from the sprained left ankle he suffered last week against Oregon State on Thursday, taking some snaps and making throws, Kiffin said, but backup Mitch Mustain continues to prepare as the starter. Said Mustain, who said he has not yet been told "explicitly" that he'll be the starter against the Irish: "There's always that wish for a little bit more time to practice, but that's just the progression of it. I'm ready to go now." Barkley, who wore a jersey top and sweatpants at practice, said he plans to suit up Saturday.

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C. Kessler37253944
J. Allen221336.01
J. Toland12473.90
D. Rogers56012.00
N. Agholor55711.42