The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.


irish insider

Head to head: USC

| Friday, November 23, 2018

Emma Farnan | The Observer
Irish sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong jogs into the end zone during Notre Dame’s 36-3 win over Syracuse on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

Irish Passing

It’s no secret that Ian Book has done some special things for the Irish this season. And Notre Dame’s receiving corps has been a huge weapon on account of its size and physicality this year, which has been a recipe for disaster for some of the most impressive defenses in the nation. USC’s defense ranks 45th nationally in defensive efficiency, and the Trojans are outside the top 50 in a number of defensive categories. Ian Book and his receivers have put up some impressive numbers on some of the best defenses in the nation — 45 vs. Virginia Tech, 38 vs. Stanford and  31 vs. Northwestern — and there is really no reason the Irish should have trouble with what has been a disappointing defensive year for the Trojans. USC will have home advantage at the Coliseum in a rivalry game, which is a plus for any defense, but the Irish passing unit has proven itself time and time again, and there is no reason to think this week will be any different.

EDGE: Notre Dame


Irish Rushing

The Irish rushing game has had extremely bright spots throughout the season — big, breakout touchdown runs and massive stat lines on the board. And even in the games when the Irish haven’t been able to collect those types of showstopping numbers, the combination of senior Dexter Williams, junior Tony Jones Jr. and sophomore Jafar Armstrong can be counted on for a play when it matters most. The backs — Armstrong in particular — have worked to combine their talents and make plays downfield as well, while players all of them have improved their blocking to become more complete players over the course of the season. Behind the Notre Dame offensive line, which has also made steady progress, the Irish run game is poised to make an impact.

EDGE: Notre Dame


Irish Offensive Coaching

It’s Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long against USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. If season stats thus far are any indication, Ian Book and the Irish should be feeling pretty good about their chances against the Trojan defense. USC ranks 69th in total defense, giving up an average of 27.3 points per game. By contrast, Notre Dame ranks 27th in total offense, scoring an average of 34.6 points per game. Chip Long threw some unique plays into the mix last week against Syracuse, and all signs look to the Irish continuing to open the playbook and diversify the offense ahead of postseason football. Pendergast is a good coordinator, but the ball seems to be in Long’s court in terms of who forces adjustments, and he will look to take advantage.

EDGE: Notre Dame


Irish Offensive Special Teams

In this final stretch of the season, Brian Polian’s special teams unit is finally starting to hit its stride behind solid kicking from senior kicker Justin Yoon and returns by senior Chris Finke. After connecting on 66 percent of his kicking attempts through the first five games, Yoon has been nearly perfect, with his lone miss coming against Northwestern. Finke has been relatively untested as of recent, averaging one and 1.4 kickoff and punt return attempts through the last five games, respectively, due to the dominant performance put on by the Notre Dame defense, but should be able to rise to the occasion against the Trojans.

EDGE: Even


Trojans Passing

The recent slump in the Trojans’ season is correlated to freshman quarterback JT Daniels’ passing woes, having thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns in the latter half of the season. His 232.3 yards per game are nothing to scoff at, but unfortunately for USC that yardage hasn’t converted to wins, as his most impressive passing performance in recent weeks — 337 yards on 20 of 34 attempts — resulted in a 34-27 loss to UCLA, the fourth defeat in five games. Paired against the lockdown secondary of juniors Julian Love, Troy Pride Jr., Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman, Daniels’ proclivity for staying in the pocket should give that quartet plenty of time to effectively defend his passes.

EDGE: Notre Dame


Trojans Rushing

The Trojans feature talent in the backfield with senior Aca’Cedric Ware (757 yards, 6 touchdowns) and sophomore Vavae Malepeai (480 yards, 7 touchdowns). However, USC has yet to put it all together this season, as the Trojans rank 102nd in rushing offense (137.1 yards per game). Meanwhile, Notre Dame ranks 39th in rushing defense this season (surrendering the exact same yardage on the ground at 137.1 yards per game). This Notre Dame defense is playing its best football at the right time, and the deep Irish defensive line should continue its success in Los Angeles.

EDGE: Notre Dame


Trojans Offensive Coaching

The USC offense has not been the squad’s issue this season. The Trojans have been able to put points on the board, averaging nearly 27 points per game and they’re averaging 137.1 yards per game on the ground and 240 through the air. That being said, this week they’re going up against the Notre Dame defense this week, which has only allowed 17 points per game and 184 passing yards each week. The bottom line is the Trojans are a good offense going up against a top-of-the-line defense and they won’t be able to generate as much as they hope.

EDGE: Notre Dame


Trojans Offensive Special Teams

Despite its overall struggles this season, USC has managed to put up some decent numbers on offensive special teams. The Trojans rank 29th in the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 23.08 yards per return, and sophomore wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. has proven to be a threat in that respect. At the same time, the Irish have not been overly impressive in defending kickoff returns and punt returns, as special teams coordinator Brian Pollian’s squad has shown glimpses of promise and weakness this season. Besides USC’s efficiency on the kick return, nothing glaring stands out about this matchup, and as it often goes with special teams, it will likely come down to who can limit mistakes and capitalize when the window is open.

EDGE: Even

Tags: ,

About Observer Sports Staff

Contact Observer