Notre Dame Football: Curtis McNeal

Notre Dame concedes very little on defense

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
4:00
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Matthew EmmonsWith one more win, Manti Te'o (right) and Notre Dame will play for the right to be No. 1.

(USC hosts Notre Dame on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.)

If the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can win on the road against the USC Trojans. History could, again, repeat itself.

Four different head coaches have been responsible for Notre Dame's eight national championships in the AP poll era (since 1936). All four captured their first national title in their third season at Notre Dame, and head coach Brian Kelly is in his third season at the helm in South Bend.

Notre Dame is one win from playing for the BCS Title thanks in larger part to its defense. The Irish have conceded a touchdown on 6.7 percent of their opponents’ possessions, the lowest percentage in FBS this season.

Notre Dame’s red zone defense also is the best in the nation, allowing a touchdown on 24.1 percent of their opponents’ drives inside the 20-yard line. (Opponents have seven touchdowns and five turnovers in 29 red zone possessions.) That’s the lowest percentage for any FBS team in the last eight seasons.

The defense is led by senior linebacker Manti Te'o. With two more tackles, Te'o will join Bob Crable as the second Notre Dame player with three 100-tackle seasons. Te’o also leads the Irish with six interceptions after not having any in his first three seasons.

Notre Dame's defense will be tested one more time, this time by one of the best wide receivers in the country. USC’s Marqise Lee has more receiving yards (821) in his last four games than 52 FBS teams during that time span. Lee has gained more yards after the catch (837) than any player from any BCS-AQ school, and leads FBS with eight 100-yard receiving games. However, only one player this season has 100 yards receiving against Notre Dame, Jalen Saunders from Oklahoma.

However, Lee will not have Matt Barkley throwing to him – the senior quarterback will not play because of a sprained shoulder. Since 2002, USC’s only loss to Notre Dame came in 2010 when Barkley (then a sophomore) had a sprained ankle and did not play.

Without Barkley, USC may turn to its running game. The Trojans are averaging 160 rushing yards per game, and has gained 10 yards or more on almost 17 percent of their rush attempts. Curtis McNeal has 324 yards in USC’s last two games, but he’ll face a Notre Dame defense that has allowed just three running backs to rush for 80 or more yards this season.

Did you know? Notre Dame at USC

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
10:00
AM ET
As always, hats off to the folks from ESPN Stats & Information, along with both schools' sports information departments, for these tidbits.
  • Notre Dame has allowed a touchdown on 6.7 percent of its opponents’ possessions, the lowest percentage in the nation. Red zone defense has been key for the Irish, allowing a touchdown on 24.1 percent of their opponents’ red zone drives, the lowest percentage for any FBS team in the past eight seasons. Overall, Notre Dame's opponents have seven touchdowns and five turnovers in 29 red zone possessions.
  • USC has scored a touchdown on 64.6 percent of its red-zone possessions, 39th in the nation. The Trojans have scored a touchdown on 29.2 percent of their goal-to-go rushes, tied for 86th nationally. Notre Dame has allowed one touchdown and minus-31 rushing yards on 18 goal-to-go rushes. Every other team in the nation has allowed at least three such touchdowns.
  • Notre Dame is the only team that has not allowed a touchdown drive longer than 75 yards. Every other FBS team has allowed at least two.
  • The Irish have allowed 14 plays of 25 yards or more, tied for second-fewest nationally. They have allowed one 25-yard touchdown, tied with Florida and Alabama for the fewest in the country.
  • Everett Golson has completed 70.8 percent of his passes thrown 10 yards or longer in his past two games after completing 44 percent of those throws in his first eight games. Four different receivers have at least two catches on a throw of that distance over the past two weeks. T.J. Jones has six catches on seven targets.
  • Marqise Lee has more receiving yards (821) in his last four games than 52 FBS teams during that time span. Lee has gained more yards after the catch (837) this season than any player from a BCS school and leads the nation with eight 100-yard receiving games. Notre Dame’s opponents are averaging 68.4 yards after the catch per game and have allowed just one player to gain 100 yards in a game this season (Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma). Lee has five more catches and 264 more receiving yards than the Irish's entire receiving corps. Lee has gained at least 100 yards receiving in eight of his 11 games, including five straight dating back to a victory over Colorado. Notre Dame has not a 100-yard receiving game from a receiver this season.
  • Robert Woods entered the season on the Biletnikoff Watch List after leading USC with 111 catches and 1,292 receiving yards last season. But Lee has emerged as USC’s clear No. 1 receiver, gaining more yards after the catch (837) than Woods has total yards (721). Woods is not getting downfield with the same consistency as last season, as he has 12 catches and four touchdowns on 31 pass attempts thrown 15 yards or longer downfield. Last season, he had 20 such catches and seven touchdowns on 42 pass attempts of that distance.
  • USC is averaging 160.5 rushing yards per game and has gained 10 or more yards on 16.6 percent of its rush attempts. Curtis McNeal has filled in nicely for an injured Silas Redd, gaining 324 yards in USC’s past two games. He will face a Notre Dame defense that has allowed just three running backs to rush for 80 or more yards this season.
Week 12: Nov. 24 at USC (at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles)

Time/TV: TBD, ABC or ESPN

Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 43-35-5

2011 record: 10-2 (7-2 Pac-12; first, South Division)

Head coach: Lane Kiffin (18-7, two years)

Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Matt Barkley, RB Curtis McNeal, WR Robert Woods, WR Marqise Lee, OL Khaled Holmes, DL Devon Kennard, DL Wes Horton, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, CB Nickell Robey, S T.J. McDonald, K Andre Heidari

Key losses

RB Marc Tyler, FB Rhett Ellison, WR Brandon Carswell, OL Matt Kalil, DL Nick Perry, DL DaJohn Harris, DL Christian Tupou, LB Chris Galippo, LS Chris Pousson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Curtis McNeal* (1,005 yards)

Passing: Matt Barkley* (3,528 yards)

Receiving: Robert Woods* (1,292 yards)

Tackles: Dion Bailey*, Hayes Pullard* (81)

Sacks: Nick Perry (9.5)

Interceptions: T.J. McDonald* (3)

Three questions for ... Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller:

So let me get this straight: USC returns 17 starters from a 10-2 team, including the Heisman frontrunner at quarterback. Where are the weaknesses with the 2012 Trojans?



Ted Miller: Officially, it's 19 starters -- don't forget both specialists! -- but who's counting? The only position that gets hit by attrition is the defensive line, which loses three starters. If you were to try and peg one area where the Trojans lack certainty, it would be the D-line, though it's worth noting there's plenty of talent up front. In general, the most notable area where USC could run into trouble is depth. The starting 24 -- including both specialists -- looks like the best collection of starters in the nation. But a couple of injuries could give the Trojans problems.

The 2011 season and this year's recruiting push has been remarkable, especially given the program's limitations in the wake of NCAA sanctions. How has Lane Kiffin done it?



TM: Well, Kiffin is selling a pretty good product: An elite football power in the middle of L.A. While Kiffin has been heavily criticized through the years -- and not without justification -- there are plenty of people who will tell you he's a good coach and a smart guy. There has to be a reason that USC, Tennessee and the Oakland Raiders gave him opportunities when he was so young and unproven. Further, USC has resources, and that allowed Kiffin to hire a very good staff, including his dad Monte Kiffin, a defensive coaching legend, and recruiting savant Ed Orgeron. All this said: Let's keep in mind that Kiffin hasn't captured any big prizes yet. Yes, the recruiting has been outstanding and seems to be rising to another level. Yes, last year's Top-5 finish was impressive with no postseason to motivate players. But let's see him win the conference and a national title before we crown him.

Putting you on the spot here: Does USC enter its clash with Notre Dame undefeated, and are the Trojans winning it all this year?



TM: The big date on USC's schedule is a Nov. 3 visit from Oregon. That could be a battle of undefeated teams with the winner setting itself up for the national title game. Because that game is in L.A., I believe the Trojans will prevail. I think the odds, therefore, are decent the Irish square off in the Coliseum on Nov. 24 with an undefeated team eyeballing the national title game. Talk about a spoiler opportunity. But -- and this is a big "but" -- going undefeated is extremely difficult, even when a team is better than everyone on its schedule. Under Pete Carroll, USC was notorious for blowing one game a season. USC's schedule isn't brutal, but there are no true patsies. If the Trojans decide not to show up one weekend, they could get clipped and knocked out of the title chase.

USC running back Amir Carlisle has announced that he will transfer from USC to Notre Dame.

This is unusual news.

Players don’t usually leave a school after a successful freshman year, especially when they are as well positioned as Carlisle was within the USC backfield. Carlisle clearly has the explosive playmaking ability that Lane Kiffin likes plus he also brings an element of toughness so his future was bright in terms of playing time.

USC comments fall on deaf ears

October, 23, 2011
10/23/11
6:30
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Don't expect any verbal retaliation from Notre Dame players in wake of a 31-17 loss to USC that led to several Trojans players taking postgame shots at the Irish.

"If they do, they don't know me very well," Brian Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference.

USC took possession at the Irish 49 with 6:43 left in the game following a Nickell Robey interception. It ended the contest with 10 straight Curtis McNeal runs.

Down two scores, Notre Dame did not use any of its timeouts, prompting harsh words from its visitors.

"At the end there, when they didn't call those timeouts, they just quit," USC linebacker Chris Galippo said, according to ESPNLA.com's Pedro Moura. "And that's what Notre Dame football's about. They're not anything like USC."

"We're coming halfway across the country to play these guys," Galippo added. "They hyped it up. This was their Super Bowl. They had 26 or 27 official visits this weekend.

"This was it for them."

Trojans running back Marc Tyler had more toned-down comments about Notre Dame.

"That's what happens when you beat them down," Tyler said. "We wore them out. They didn't want to play no more.

"We out-physicaled them and beat them down."

Kelly did not agree that his team wore down defensively but would not engage in a battle of words.

"I don't know if that's the case," Kelly said. "To the victors go the spoils. I think we probably would have said the same thing last year. Again, how we evaluate our players, we didn't play the kind of football we wanted to play."

Brian Kelly radio show recap

October, 20, 2011
10/20/11
8:07
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It turns out USC running back Marc Tyler will travel after all.

Not that it changed Notre Dame's preparation one way or another.

"We don't change because of a guy who might be probable or he's questionable," Brian Kelly said during his weekly radio show at Legends of Notre Dame. "I think at quarterback, if there's really two different quarterbacks, you may have an additional gameplan for another quarterback. But for those guys that are playing those other positions, we just assume they're playing. We don't listen to what people are saying about who's in or who's out."

Tyler dislocated his left shoulder a week ago against Cal and has started the Trojans' last five games, though junior Curtis McNeal is still expected to start Saturday.

Tyler has carried the ball 83 times for 368 yards and a pair of touchdowns this season.

Meanwhile, Ethan Johnson's status looks murkier despite being cleared to play.

The defensive end sprained his right ankle nearly three weeks ago at Purdue. Kelly said the Irish's depth on the defensive line this season allows him to be more cautious with Johnson.

"He's getting better," Kelly said. "I don't think he's at a level where he can play 50, 60 plays. I expect him, if our coaches feel like he can help us you may see him out there."

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