USC-Notre Dame: How Returning Trojans Could Spell Trouble For The Irish


Although both USC and Notre Dame enjoyed bye weeks to prepare for this Saturday’s big game, the extra week was particularly fortuitous for the Trojans, who will welcome back several key players that are expected to see significant minutes against the Irish.

Several of these players will have a direct impact on the Trojans game plan and one in particular will fundamentally change the way USC does business on the offensive side of the ball.

As if the Irish didn’t have enough to do game planning for the Trojans who have been recently playing, here is what Notre Dame must now consider as they prepare for these returning USC players:

First and foremost, wide receiver Ronald Johnson returns.

“Rojo,” as he is known, has been out all season long with a broken collarbone, and with him comes the return of the Trojans vertical passing game.

Johnson, who is USC’s version of Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd (and who will miss the game due to injury), completely changes the dynamic of the Trojans offense.

Rojo’s speed will prevent the Notre Dame defense from stacking the defensive line by bringing a safety up to protect against the run.

In turn, not only does the Trojan running game benefit but so does the intermediate passing game where wide receiver Damien Williams and tight end Anthony McCoy will find ample room to showcase their skills.

Make no mistake about it, the return of Johnson will create opportunities for quarterback Matt Barkley and the rest of the Trojan offense all over the field.

Also back is defensive end Armond Armstead, who is returning from a foot injury that he suffered during training camp.

Armstead, whose speed and athleticism prompted the unusual move from defensive tackle to end, is a gifted lineman who will probably get most of his playing time back at defensive tackle.

Part of the reason why he will move to the interior is because of the emergence of Nick Perry, the PAC-10 sack leader and the continued excellent play of Everson Griffen who is only a sack behind Perry.

The other reason is that Averil Spicer and Christian Tupou, both defensive tackles who see significant time in the rotation, are banged up.

This week, Armstead has seen most of his practice time playing along side Jurrell Casey, who is having a breakout season as defensive tackle and nose guard.

A healthy Armond Armstead will further strengthen a defensive line that is already statistically one of the best in the nation.

Meanwhile, the Trojan linebacking corp gets a big boost with the return of starting strongside linebacker Malcolm Smith and his back-up, Jordon Campbell.

Smith and Campbell, both returning from ankle injuries, are expected to be eased into the rotation and their health directly influences the depth of the defensive backfield, who has been missing safety Shane Horton.

Horton, who had filled in for Smith and Campbell and did an excellent job, is expected to rotate between linebacker and safety.

Speaking of the defensive backfield, USC will also welcome back Brian Baucham, an up and coming cornerback, who, prior to a motorcycle accident, had been one of the first in USC’s d-back rotation.

The above mentioned players who are returning constitute a significant portion of both starting talent as well as depth to a Trojan team that comes into South Bend as a 10 point favorite.

While the bye week allowed extra time for the Trojans to welcome back key missing players, it also allowed other Trojans who have been playing with nagging injuries to recover as well.

Nick Perry, the aforementioned defensive end and Christian Tupou, will both benefit form the time off although their contributions in terms of playing time may still be compromised.

So what does this mean for the fighting Irish?

It means that Charlie Weis and company, as if they didn’t have enough of a headache planning for the recent version of USC, now has more to make their heads hurt.

Better keep the Tylenol handy Charlie.