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USC FOOTBALL

A tale of two Southern California quarterbacks

Matt Barkley can make his mark as a freshman. Jimmy Clausen could help his Heisman chances.

October 17, 2009|Gary Klein

USC cruised in its last trip to the land of Knute Rockne, the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus and is trying to extend its winning streak against Notre Dame to eight. Notre Dame is out to prove its record this season is no fluke. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at some of the game's key issues and matchups:

Golden boys

Former Southland high school stars Matt Barkley and Jimmy Clausen face off in a game that could go a long way in determining each of their legacies.

USC's Barkley showed no signs of timidity at Ohio State or California, so there's no reason to think the freshman will be fazed by the grand stage that is Notre Dame Stadium.

Barkley has completed 59% of his passes, but has only three touchdowns with two interceptions. That could change against a team ranked 110th among 120 major colleges in passing defense.

Clausen is the nation's passing efficiency leader and has 12 touchdowns with only two interceptions.

Clausen will work against a Trojans front seven that has been effective rushing the passer, and a senior-laden secondary led by All-American safety Taylor Mays.

Back to back

Joe McKnight has emerged as the Trojans' top rusher and is hoping to duplicate the success he enjoyed at Ohio State and Cal.

Allen Bradford, who had a career high 12 carries against Cal, also could play a major role.

Seldom-used C.J. Gable, the best blocker among USC tailbacks, appeared ready to contribute against a Notre Dame defense that likes to blitz. However, Gable's status might not be determined until kickoff because of a knee bruise.

Armando Allen averages 5.1 yards a carry for Notre Dame and has three touchdowns. Receiver Golden Tate also lines up in the backfield and has averaged 7.1 yards in 13 carries. They might find it tough going against a USC defense that ranks fifth against the run.

Catching up

Broken collarbones have played a big role in both teams' seasons.

USC receiver Ronald Johnson will play for the first time after recovering from a broken collarbone suffered in the final preseason scrimmage. The speedy junior's return should bolster a receiving corps that has been led by junior Damian Williams but has otherwise lacked production.

Notre Dame is without Michael Floyd, who suffered a broken collarbone against Michigan State on Sept. 19. The Irish feature Tate, who has 33 receptions and is averaging 18.2 yards a catch. Tight end Kyle Rudolph has caught 21 passes for three touchdowns.

Deeper lineup

The last time USC visited Notre Dame, the Trojans had only five available offensive linemen. That was enough in a 38-0 rout of the Irish.

The Trojans, led by center Kristofer O'Dowd, will be more than twice as deep today.

Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore and tackle Ethan Johnson have been productive for the Irish, but three of the top four tacklers are backs, which is never a good sign for a defense.

USC's defensive line must overcome some depth issues because of injuries to tackles Christian Tupou and Averell Spicer. Sophomore Armond Armstead, who returned last week from a foot injury, will make his season debut in Tupou's place.

Fight club

Emotions will be running high as the Irish try to end their losing streak against the Trojans and keep Coach Charlie Weis off the hot seat.

The Trojans will enter the stadium with their usual swagger.

Last year at the Coliseum, the teams chirped at each other outside their locker rooms and in the tunnel on their way to the field before engaging in a pregame scuffle.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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