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Head to head: USC

| Friday, October 11, 2019

Irish Passing 

The Trojans have allowed 236.4 passing yards per game while Notre Dame has recorded an average of over 280 yards. It’s still a little difficult to evaluate how meaningful those yards against Bowling Green and New Mexico actually were, but there’s no denying that when the Irish took on Georgia between the hedges, the thing that kept things close was their ability to pick up 15 and 20 yards downfield with big targets like Cole Kmet and Chase Claypool. The Trojans secondary isn’t necessarily a weakness, but it’s not enough to shut down the Notre Dame offense. It’s close, but this one belongs to the Irish

EDGE: Notre Dame


Irish Rushing 

Notre Dame has certainly had its fair share of struggles on the ground this year, highlighted most poignantly through the mere 46 yards rushing recorded in the Georgia game. Luckily for the Irish, they got a bit of a confidence boost against Bowling Green, recording a season-high 233 yards on the ground with help from nine different ball carriers. If Notre Dame wants to be a viable College Football Playoffs contender, they’ll have to continue to work at their rushing game, finding a back or two who can reliably push through the line. Luckily, the anticipated return of Jafar Armstrong this week should help get that movement started. 

USC’s rush defense is 89th in FBS, giving up an average of 175 yards per game and 4.51 yards per carry. The Trojan’s weakness at the line against an Irish offense that worked out many kinks last week? The Notre Dame running corp should be as close to top form as we’ve this year seen come Saturday. 

EDGE: Notre Dame


Irish Offensive Coaching 

Chip Long is probably one of the best offensive coordinators the Irish have had in the past decade, and despite the flares of offensive struggle we’ve seen thus far, he’s managed to do a considerable amount with a unit missing some talent in key spots. His creative play calling against Georgia is partly the reason the Irish stayed in that game on the road, and that was against a defense far more menacing than that of USC’s. USC is 51st in the nation in defensive efficiency, and they’ll get a new offensive look in Notre Dame, one quite different from the traditional Pac-12 style. Long should be able to keep the USC defense guessing. 

EDGE: Notre Dame


Irish Offensive Special Teams 

Yes, Jonathan Doerer missed a field goal against Virginia. However, he should be cut some slack because it was a 47-yarder, and it was his first in-game from anywhere near that range. The way he has stepped in to fill the shoes of all-time program leading scorer Justin Yoon has been impressive, making every single extra point this season and going 3-4 on field goals with a long of 36. The Trojans have managed to block two kicks this season, but the Irish kicking unit has done a solid job of giving Doerer time to kick. USC has the athletes to make plays on special teams, but Notre Dame is competent and disciplined enough that it would take a stroke of luck for the Trojans to make a game-changing play.

EDGE: Notre Dame


USC Passing

USC has an extremely strong passing game, the best the Irish have faced all season. They lost starting quarterback JT Daniels in the first game of the season, but backup Kedon Slovis has been solid in relief. He has missed time with injuries himself but averaged 329 yards passing in the two games he started this season — only eight teams have averaged more so far.

A large aspect of Slovis’ success is the support of an elite receiving corps. They are led by Michael Pittman, who has 35 receptions through five games for an average of 14.3 yards per catch, highest on the team for anyone with at least five catches. He can burn you deep, runs precise routes and will give Irish corners all they can handle. Former five-star recruit Amon-Ra St. Brown is their third receiver and has been toasting depth cornerbacks all season. Having such an elite receiver at No. 3 on their depth chart gives them weapons across the field, and the Irish will need to be ready to step up. 



USC Rushing

USC favors a throwing offense, but that being said, the Trojans can do their fair share of damage on the ground. Running back Vavae Malepeai leads his team with 360 yards on the season for four touchdowns, and he has some support in Stephen Carr and Markese Stepp, who share the load at second string fairly evenly. As a unit, the three are pretty efficient. 

Unfortunately for the USC running backs, they’ll be looking at a Notre Dame defense which effectively stifled DeAndre Swift. The Irish strength this year lies in the defense. In front of a home crowd at Notre Dame stadium during a night game? Sorry, boys.

EDGE: Notre Dame


USC Offensive Coaching 

The Trojans’ offensive bread and butter is through the air. They average 292.2 yards per game passing and only 137.2 rushing, and only three running backs have gotten touches for them all season. Ironically though, the Trojans rushed for 212 yards and 6.4 yards per carry two weeks ago against Washington, while throwing for only 163 yards and three picks. Granted, third-string quarterback Matt Fink was in against the Huskies and Kedon Slovis is returning for this game, but they managed to shut down the Trojans’ scoring ability. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell has too many playmakers at wide receiver not to have some success through the air, so expect a couple of big plays. However, Clark Lea has had a propensity for making impressive in-game adjustments, as the Irish have only given up six points in third quarters this entire year, all of them to Georgia. A talented, veteran Irish secondary, even one without Shaun Crawford, should tame the Trojans enough for the offense to build a comfortable lead.

EDGE: Notre Dame


USC Offensive Special Teams 

USC is dangerous in the kick return game. Velus Jones Jr. averages 25.6 yards per return and took one kick 100 yards for a touchdown against Fresno State. The team has had little success in the punt-return game, choosing to return just five for 27 yards, although they do have playmakers, like Tyler Vaughns, receiving who are dangerous if given space. Kicker Chase McGrath is a perfect four-for-four on field goals on the season, including one from 52 yards. He is also perfect on extra points but is yet to be tested in a cold weather environment. Punter Ben Griffiths has three punts of over 50 yards so far, giving him the ability to pin the Irish deep from almost anywhere on the field. It has been an extremely sound special teams season so far for the Trojans. 


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