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irish insider

Head-to-head: South Florida Bulls

| Friday, September 18, 2020

Notre Dame passing

The passing game seemed to be Notre Dame’s biggest struggle offensively against Duke, epitomized by the fact the leading receiver wasn’t a receiver at all — it was running back Kyren Williams. Ian Book isn’t comfortable with his new targets yet and the Blue Devil secondary was one of their team’s stronger positions. However, with a game under his belt, things should look better this week between QB1 and his guys out wide. South Florida has a trio of strong defensive backs in juniors Nick Roberts, Bentlee Sanders and Vincent Davis, but their biggest test this year has been against The Citadel. With this matchup coming for the Bulls in week two, they haven’t had enough time or experience to prepare properly for their trip to South Bend. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Notre Dame rushing

What Notre Dame did against Duke in the season opener was certainly an improvement over how the offensive line and running backs looked in the running game last season. More agile, speedy runners and a mentality of driving the defense off the ball do wonders for a team with a stagnant ground game. It should be even easier to do that this week. Despite Duke’s meandering status as a team, they have a very solid defense. They were depleted in the interior so the Irish arguably should have done more, but chalk it up to the first game after the strangest offseason ever. Look for Notre Dame to dominate in the trenches against an overmatched South Florida front seven.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Notre Dame offensive coaching 

It was a rocky start for Tommy Rees in his first game as the official offensive coordinator for Notre Dame. It will be interesting to see how he fares in his second game, this time against a team that he faced as a player in one of the most infamous games in Notre Dame history. All things considered though, Rees called a good game after the Irish struggled on offense through their first three series against Duke. The lingering issues from then on were more a product of Ian Book struggling to connect with receivers than actual play calls. First-year South Florida defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has more experience than Rees, but Rees has more weapons and has been with this system longer than Spencer.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

Notre Dame offensive special teams

Brian Polian had one of the best days on the Notre Dame sideline out of anyone else on the staff last week. Jonathan Doerer drilled two kicks from 30-plus out and made all of his extra points. Polian even pulled out a trick play in week one when sophomore punter Jay Bramblett rushed for 14 yards on a fake punt that was backed up all the way to the Irish 21-yard line. Opening day for a special teams coach can be a nightmare waiting to happen, but Polian’s group was poised and is looking good heading into their matchup against the Bulls. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

South Florida passing

South Florida leaned heavily on their run game in their season-opening win over The Citadel, rushing 39 times for 302 yards and two scores. Three different quarterbacks combined to go 18-25 passing for 102 yards. Jordan McCloud led the pack at 11-16 throwing for 68 yards and the Bulls’ lone aerial score; he also had an abysmal QBR of 19.8. The offensive line protection was nothing that should concern Notre Dame’s pass rush, especially when seeing how sophomore defensive end Isaiah Foskey showed out against Duke. Along with a somewhat surprisingly sound secondary, one displaying new contributors like graduate transfer cornerback Nick McCloud and safety D.J. Brown, the Irish should have little trouble containing the Bulls’ air game, even if Kyle Hamilton is hobbled with an ankle sprain.

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

South Florida rushing

After a rough start to the game, the Notre Dame defensive line settled in against the Duke rushing attack, limiting the Blue Devils to just 2.4 yards per carry, shutting down a potential All-ACC running back in Deon Jackson, to the tune of just 52 yards on 15 carries. South Florida brings an intriguing offense to South Bend, as they feature two backs who received eight and nine carries last week, as well as Noah Johnson, who represents one-half of a quarterback tandem that the Bulls featured against the Citadel. USF leaned on the run game in their opener, racking up 302 yards on 7.7 yards per pop. That strength will be greatly tested against Notre Dame’s defensive front, who simply looked extremely tough to run the ball against. None of USF’s backs are better than Jackson, and their line is not as strong as Duke’s. Notre Dame has the advantage here. 

EDGE: Notre Dame 

 

South Florida offensive coaching

Brian Kelly described Bulls offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. (son of former Irish coach Charlie Weis) a “young, bright star” in the coaching ranks. That star is likely to be enveloped by the black hole that is Clark Lea’s defensive scheme, even one suffering from a hobbled Kyle Hamilton. It’s Weis and former Clemson OC Jeff Scott’s first year helming the Bulls and they were minus a full spring and fall camp to solidly ingrain their new offense and culture. The new blood may pay dividends for USF this season, but it won’t come in South Bend in just their second game of the season. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

 

South Florida offensive special teams

It can be difficult to rate special teams performances with just one game in the books, and one in the age of COVID at that. In terms of the return game, South Florida doesn’t seem to flash much — their punt “return” touchdown in the season opener was just them catching a shanked punt while standing in the endzone. They certainly don’t have anyone on the level of Duke’s Damond Philyaw-Johnson, and the Irish turned the Blue Devils’ speedster into a non-factor last weekend. As for placekicking, sophomore Spencer Shrader missed his lone field goal attempt against The Citadel (granted, on a 40-plus yard shot in wet conditions), but he went 4-9 on field goals last year and didn’t convert on any past 34 yards. He did go 12-12 on extra points last season, so perhaps his performance in that area Saturday was a just a hiccup. In any case, the Irish shouldn’t have much to fret about in this game.

EDGE: Notre Dame

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