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Miller: Does Notre Dame want rain?

| Friday, October 13, 2023

This summer, I lived right next to USC. When people ask me about my feelings towards southern California, the first thing I bring up is the beautiful weather. During my three months in Los Angeles, it never rained. While it got brutally hot at times, it was nice to know that the weather wouldn’t serve as a major impediment to my plans.

USC has the great benefit of being able to practice outside nearly every day. In the rare case when there is poor weather, USC has limited options. The Trojans have a very small 30-yard turf field that barely extends past the hash. It’s mainly used for walkthroughs. Kickers and punters can’t practice, and many passes would hit the facilities’ ceiling. Bottom line: USC doesn’t have the benefit of being fully ready for poor weather.

Notre Dame has a much nicer indoor facility, but the Irish also have the benefit of being able to practice in poor conditions. This past week, South Bend has seen temperatures in the mid-50s. Los Angeles still has highs in the 80s. Practicing in the cold and rain isn’t luxurious, but if a team is able to do it, it gives them a stark advantage during the game — one that Lincoln Riley’s team isn’t used to. Saturday night’s forecast looks damp, with temperatures in the low 50s following a rainy 24 hours.

USC’s running game

This week, Riley has been simulating rain at practice. Coaches are using water gun-like devices to spray returners when they receive punts. Riley’s offense will have to adapt its pass-heavy scheme. However, running back MarShawn Lloyd has actually been just as effective as Caleb Williams. I calculated effective average yards per play, which factors quarterback incompletions into their stat line. Caleb Williams averages about 7.3 yards per play. Lloyd averages about 7.7 yards per play. Obviously, this conclusion has its limits, as a team can only run the ball so much before the defense can predict its every move. However, Notre Dame’s run defense hasn’t been stellar this year, currently sitting at 59th among FBS teams, allowing 132.9 yards per game.

The Irish have seen poor play at the defensive end position, and they have had to heavily rely on three graduate students, defensive tackle Howard Cross and linebackers Marist Liufau and JD Bertrand. All three play nearly every snap. If Saturday night is rainy, the defense will rotate more, forcing Al Golden to send out players with less experience and less physicality.

Evaluating USC’s passing game

Additionally, in the passing game, USC has relied on long passes this year. Top wide receiver Tahj Washington averages 21.7 yards per reception; his colleague Brenden Rice averages 20.7 yards per reception. Notre Dame wants opposing teams to pass. Top corners Benjamin Morrison and Cam Hart match up well against most FBS wide receivers. The weather takes this opportunity away. Obviously, USC’s passing game is one of the country’s best, but it’s simultaneously an area where Notre Dame tends to perform well.

Caleb Williams hasn’t utilized the QB keeper much this year, running for 124 yards so far — although he also has six rushing touchdowns. Surely, we’ll see Williams keep the ball more frequently tomorrow night.

Ultimately, USC doesn’t have experience practicing or playing in poor conditions. However, USC’s offensive scheme may work well in a stormy environment. In coming years, USC will have to be sure it can adapt to the cold as it joins the Big Ten. But until then, Saturday’s matchup in South Bend will serve as a sneak peek at what is to come.

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About Jake Miller

Jake is the President of NDTV. On occasion, he contributes to The Observer, primarily covering football and women's basketball.

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