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GAME DAY

It's Almost Graduation Day

USC SCOUTING REPORT: Notre Dame (8-2) at USC (5-6)

November 25, 2000|DAVID WHARTON

USC finished a brief walk-through Friday with a ceremony in which the seniors jogged off the practice field while the band played "Conquest."

"I had mixed emotions," tackle Brent McCaffrey said. "Kind of sad but, at the same time, it's time to move on."

Center Eric Denmon found himself thinking back over his five years at the university and recalling what it was like to be a freshman, when he and his teammates arrived on campus.

"All of us are men now," he said. "We've accomplished something."

*

Two injured seniors, linebacker Markus Steele and offensive lineman Trevor Roberts, are still expected to play at least part of today's game. Freshman receiver Keary Colbert, who hurt his hand against UCLA, said he will be fitted with a soft cast and expects to play.

*

It has become a battle cry at USC this week: The players want to be part of the first team since 1981 to string together victories over UCLA and Notre Dame.

That goal does not impress Irish offensive tackle Kurt Vollers, who grew up in Whittier and rooted for UCLA as a boy.

"What are they, 5-6?" Vollers told the Associated Press, referring to USC's record. "If you're content with 6-6 and beating your two rivals, I personally would rather be 9-2 or whatever we'd be."

*

Four touchdowns and 350 yards against UCLA last week were not enough to take the pressure off Carson Palmer, at least not according to Palmer, who has struggled for most of the season.

"If anything, there's more heat," he said. "I'm expected to play even better."

Criticism comes with playing quarterback, he says. The sophomore understands that fans expect him to continue his hot streak. "I should be playing that well every week," he said.

*

* Time: 12:30 p.m.

* Site: Coliseum.

* TV: Channel 7.

* Radio: XTRA (690).

* When USC has the ball: The Trojans hope for a repeat of their performance against UCLA . . . almost. They want the big yards from Carson Palmer and tailback Sultan McCullough but would prefer to subtract the costly fumbles and penalties. Even Notre Dame Coach Bob Davie noted: "They have great statistics, other than the turnovers." At the heart of the Irish defense is the front seven, especially linebackers Rocky Boiman and Anthony Denman. The secondary, weakened by injury, might need help from a pass rush and some tricky coaching. "They show a lot of different fronts and different coverages," Palmer said. "They bring a lot of different blitzes."

* When Notre Dame has the ball: The Irish rely on their running game but have gotten solid play from freshman quarterback Matt LoVecchio, who became a starter in the fifth week of the season and is one of the most efficient passers in the nation. "He works within their system," USC secondary coach Dennis Thurman said. "They don't ask him to do too much." Receiver Joey Getherall represents a deep threat, but, for the most part, the Trojan defense is gearing up for an old-fashioned, hard-hitting game. Said end Sultan Abdul-Malik: "It's not a lot to think about." The front four will bear more of a burden, with inexperienced linebackers Aaron Graham and Chris Prosser expected to play a good deal.

* Key to the game: Last week, USC turned the ball over twice--a miracle for a team plagued by interceptions and fumbles. For the Trojans to win, they must limit the mistakes against a nearly error-free Notre Dame. It would also help to coax a steady performance from the special teams, a strong point for the Irish.

* Fast fact: These teams face each other for the 72nd time today and, in all those years, this is only the 12th time USC has entered the game with a losing record. The Trojans are 4-7 against Notre Dame when they are under .500.

* Line: Pick 'em.

HOW THEY COMPARE

USC and Notre Dame

26.2 Scoring 30.6

27.2 Points allowed 20.5

263.4 Passing 131.2

160.5 Rushing 210.3

423.8 Total offense 341.5

224.1 Passing defense 201.7

114.8 Rushing defense 154.6

338.9 Total defense 356.3

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