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irish insider

Head to Head: Notre Dame vs. USC

| Friday, October 22, 2021

Notre Dame Passing

Neither Notre Dame’s passing offense or USC’s secondary have found much of a groove this season. Notre Dame has struggled due to their young offensive line, which has failed to protect Jack Coan or whoever has played at quarterback for the Irish. USC’s secondary, however, has been atrocious, as they allowed over 300 passing yards in their loss to Utah last week. Notre Dame’s pass protection has looked much improved as of late and with tight end Michael Mayer expected to return alongside playmakers Kevin Austin, Avery Davis and Braden Lenzy, the Irish should be able to take advantage of a weak USC secondary.

EDGE: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Rushing 

Chris Tyree and Kyren Williams were banged around a bit against Virginia Tech two weeks ago. While that should put stress on the Irish run game, freshman running back Logan Diggs proved there was no need to worry, and there won’t be a reason for a good while. The one threat to the run game will be outside linebacker Drake Johnson, but without the USC defensive line on his level, he will be the main focus for the O-line. If Tyler Buchner steps onto the field, there will be some opportunities for him to take off as well, especially with Williams’s blocking capabilities, there’ll even be space for designed runs. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Offensive Coaching

Tommy Rees is faced with one of the toughest challenges early on in his coaching career as he is forced to be ready to call plays for three different quarterbacks at any given time in a game. It has worked to a degree thus far, but it is clearly not sustainable and a decision on a QB1 needs to be made quickly. Once this decision is made Rees will be able to open up his offense, tailoring it more towards one quarterback as opposed to three. The Irish wont be up against a stellar defense, as the Trojans give up an average of 27.3 points per game but the Irish will need to get their ducks in a row if they wish to have an advantage here.

EDGE: USC

Notre Dame Offensive Special Teams

John Doerer and Jay Bramblett have been on the top of their game this entire season. In the middle of a game, Doerer hasn’t been perfect but no one is perfect. In every clutch moment, he’s been there. He was there to close out FSU, he was there time and again against Wisco and against VT, he came in clutch yet again. Bramblett has been on his game too. The pair can only do so much as the offense and the defense have to do something with it but they definitely have not been a disappointment. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

USC Passing

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis has failed to live up to high expectations set for him this season, as he has five interceptions on the year and has taken seven sacks. That being said, Slovis does have the talent to exploit the Notre Dame defense, as he almost led the Trojans to victory at Notre Dame Stadium two years ago. Slovis will be reliant on wide receiver Drake London to have a big game with London having been his top target on the year with already over 800 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Slovis and London will look to exploit a Notre Dame secondary that has shown some weak spots in corners Clarence Lewis and Cam Hart so far this season. Despite the Trojans’ struggle throwing the ball, Slovis and London have too much talent for the Irish secondary to successfully limit their production. 

EDGE: USC

USC Rushing

USC has not been able to rely on their rushing this season, by any means. Their offense has been pass-heavy. Out of this season’s six games thus far, three of them have had less than 100 yards rushing for the Trojans. In only one game they’ve had more than 200 yards rushing, in another two they’ve broken 100 yards. Against Stanford, they ran for 185 yards and still couldn’t come away with the win so even with the run game present, it has limited points to show for it. The Irish defense, if capable of anything, is significantly strong at stopping the run game. Especially with Hinish back at nose guard, and the productive success Notre Dame has seen from Drew White and J.D. Bertrand, the Irish should be able to shut the Trojans down.

EDGE: Notre Dame

USC Offensive Coaching

Graham Harrell has been an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the collegiate level for six seasons now, and his results are middling. He turned a North Texas offense ranked 99th his first year in points per game into a top-30 unit, but he’s somewhat underwhelmed with better talent since being at USC. The Trojans ranked 33rd and 37th in points per game in his first two seasons, and this year, with arguably the best receiver in the nation and a quarterback that has received Heisman hype for two seasons now, USC has produced exceptionally inconsistent results. Outside of feeding Drake London the ball as frequently as possible, Harrell hasn’t really figured out how to move the ball and his offense has struggled in the red zone, when London isn’t as much of a big-play threat. 

Harrell is a bit of a one-dimensional threat, and if there’s anything he shouldn’t do against Marcus Freeman, it’s be predictable. Freeman has been rock-solid in the past five games after a shaky opener with Florida State. Cincinnati’s 24 points are the most his unit has given up. If Freeman limits London, then Harrell is going to be at a loss in this matchup. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

USC Offensive Special Teams

Parker Lewis has been a bright spot for USC, going 17-17 on extra points and 10-11 on field goals, so the Trojans’ red zone struggles have been somewhat overlooked. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s kick coverage has been solid but nothing spectacular. USC is solid enough to maintain an advantage in this area, but they’ll hope not to have to utilize it, as too many field goals means more fruitless trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. 

EDGE: USC

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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