Inside the Trojans

Marqise Lee is the nation's best

SCPlaybook.com beat writer Lindsey Thiry stops by to answer O'Malley's five questions about the rival Trojans.

1 - USC could go two ways after Saturday's loss to its top conference rival knocked them out of Pac-12 title game contention. Will Irish fans see a dispirited group of Trojans waiting for a disappointing season to end, or a fired-up collection of top tier talent playing with nothing to lose in a spoiler role?

This is one of the areas USC has felt "off" in all season, being fired up for big games. Similar to Notre Dame, during the week they say they prepare for every game the same way no matter who the opponent is. The Trojans have come out flat in nearly every game this season. Now with nothing really left to play for than pride, it would be surprising to see them come out with more energy than their previous games.

However, maybe "enough is enough" and this will be the week they prove that this season and the 7-4 record isn't representative of who they are as a team. The spoiler role isn't one USC is used to, whether they embrace it or not is a bit of uncharted territory.

2 - Irish fans know Robert Woods well from his exploits last season in South Bend. How has Marqise Lee taken the mantle as the nation's best receiver from his own teammate?

Marqise Lee is an unbelievable talent. Knowing what Irish fans know about Robert Woods, imagine this: Lee makes Woods look rather average. His ability to not only catch the ball, but pick up yards after the catch is second to none. That being said, if you look at the numbers and the attempts of Woods compared to Lee, the numbers heavily favor Lee. Matt Barkley had been forcing the ball to Lee much of the season and Woods has been relegated to a "decoy" and blocker the last few games for the Trojans.

3 - USC's offensive line played its best game of the season last year in a two touchdown victory over the Irish. Is the group capable of ascending to that level again against what has become the nation's best front four?

No. The offensive line has struggled all season, starting against Stanford (they played with center Khaled Holmes in that loss). With Matt Kalil gone in the NFL, left tackle has been a problematic spot all season on the line. Sophomore Aundrey Walker and true freshman Max Tuerk have battled after the loss to Stanford. Neither had started a game there prior to this season. With Walker, its an effort issue at the position, with Tuerk - it's freshman growing pains.

Kiffin has also been rotating through Marcus Martin and Abe Markowitz at left guard. Needless to say, the left side of the line is questionable.

4 - The Trojans have struggled defensively of late. What's a remaining strength of the unit that could give the Irish offense problems?

That is a great question. After losing to Arizona and giving up historically bad numbers to Oregon...plus the loss to UCLA... a remaining strength of the USC defense is a huge question. The defensive line is, surprisingly, their greatest strength. They sacked UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley five times, and had the possibility to tack on seven more but Hundley evaded them with his mobility.

The linebacking corp and secondary were once thought to be a great strength of the Trojans - but after 23 missed tackles against the Bruins... it's another unknown how they will respond and if it was an execution or ability problem.

5 - What type of reception will third-year head coach Lane Kiffin receive after last week's loss and three defeats in his last four outings? Could things get ugly in the Coliseum if Notre Dame gets on top early as the Trojans did last year in South Bend, or did Pat Haden's vote of confidence already stem that tide?

Yes. Things are getting ugly, fans are calling for Kiffin to be fired, local and national media are questioning his job security, some even saying it's time for him to go. The Coliseum booed the Trojans when they took the locker room at halftime two weeks ago against Arizona State. If USC is down to Notre Dame at halftime, no doubt you'll hear a disgruntled stadium.

Even though Pat Haden confirmed that Kiffin will be back next season, LA fans aren't necessarily buying it. After all, this is the same city who saw the Laker's brass say that Mike Brown was going nowhere, only to fire him a couple days later. A blowout loss, or even just a loss, to Notre Dame will certainly be the last straw for most of the USC faithful who expected a national championship contender and instead are canceling trips to Miami and saying "no way" will be they making a trip to El Paso.

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