The long, excruciating bye week is over. It’s game day. Notre Dame and USC are mere hours away from squaring off in a playoff eliminator in the newly renovated House that Rockne built. Two months ago this was one game on the schedule that I was sure would be a loss. A lot has changed since then though. Note Dame is 5-1 with its lone blemish being a one point loss at the hands of the current #3 team in the country. Is it enough for me to change my prediction and pick the Irish? Let’s find out.
What Worries Me This Week
Sam Darnold and USC playing their first full game of the season. USC has not looked anything like the team that started the season in the top 5 or the one that ended last year as one of the hottest teams in the country to this point this season. Still, wouldn’t it just be our luck for USC to have their first game of the year when they realize “oh yeah, we are a really talented football team”? We’ve seen it happen before in this series. At the same time, we’ve seen the reverse happen where the Trojans come in arrogant and Notre Dame simply plays tougher and beats them down (see 1995). I think we will see something in the middle this year, but after all of the Heisman campaigns we’ve seen Notre Dame defenses allow to kickoff in the past, I am just a tad jaded.
Notre Dame’s injuries in the backfield. Notre Dame hasn’t been able to stay healthy at running back this year with a slew of minor bumps and bruises. Most weeks those minor injuries sent players to the sidelines early because games were in hand. Still, Notre Dame needs all of its backs tonight to take down the Trojans. Josh Adams is said to be 100% as is Tony Jones. The question mark is Dexter Williams who Kelly said isn’t 100% and Notre Dame will need to pick and choose their moments to use him. Was that a bit of gamesmanship? Is Dexter healthier than he is leading on? Is he not even close to healthy and Kelly is being Coy? We don’t really know since a Brian Kelly injury report is never exactly forthcoming.
Notre Dame trying to get too cute again. Remember what happened in the last big game this year? Notre Dame game out and tried a gimmick on the first play of the game and it set the tone for the rest of the game. The Irish told Georgia essentially that they didn’t think they could beat them straight up. Notre Dame doesn’t need to do that tonight. Notre Dame is more talented in the trenches than USC – especially with USC’s injuries. The Irish should come out and pound the ball. Run right at USC. The Trojans are the kind of team that will eventually give up if you come out and hit them in the mouth and never let off. If Wimbush attempts 30 passes tonight, Notre Dame will lose. Run it tonight. Right it right at USC from the first whistle and don’t look back until the end of the game.
Turnovers. Notre Dame has been forcing turnovers at a great rate this year and Darnold has been a turnover machine early on. So why do turnovers worry me? Because football is a weird game. Everything points to Notre Dame being able to force turnovers and continue to capitalize on them tonight. Everything in the world said that the Denver Broncos should crush the New York Giants on Sunday night though too. Perhaps I am overthinking things here, but when there are obvious trends in this series, the opposite tends to occur when the game is actually played.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
The health of Brandon Wimbush. The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for Notre Dame. Wimbush is 100% and they will need every single percent of him tonight. While he’s struggled with his arm so far this year, he has excelled with his legs and I see the latter happening again tonight. I think we’ll see improvement from him in the passing game with the bye week and fall break to spend focusing on football and self scouting. I don’t expect Wimbush to be confused with Carson Wentz – the toast of the NFL – just yet, but I do think we will see another Michigan State style passing performance out of him.
The loss of Greer Martini. Martini has been lights out this year so far and has exceeded my expectations for him easily. That said, I think Notre Dame will be just fine tonight with Tevon Coney who has also far exceeded my expectations. Depth could be a bit of a concern at linebacker without Martini, but the Irish shouldn’t skip a beat with Coney in the starting lineup tonight.
The hype. I love that College Gameday isn’t in South Bend this week actually. I know a lot of fans were all up in arms about it, but this game didn’t need any more hype than it already has. Notre Dame is still not too far removed from being a 4-8 football team so it shouldn’t be hard for the coaches to keep them grounded and focused.
Notre Dame’s ability to run the football. As noted above I think Notre Dame should run the football tonight. Better yet, I think they will run the football pretty damn well tonight. USC is giving up almost 150 yards on the ground this year and other than Stanford they haven’t faced a team that can run the ball like Notre Dame.
Players the Watch This Week
- Kevin Stepherson – Coming off the bye, Stepherson is going to finally make his mark tonight. Look for Stepherson to get behind the Trojan defense early and make a huge play for Notre Dame. Once that happens, Notre Dame’s run game will take over.
- Equanimeous St. Brown – With his 5-star brother in attendance vs. their home state program, I think we will see St. Brown finally look like the #1 wide receiver that we all anticipated him to be.
- Tevon Coney – See above. Coney could have the best game of his career tonight.
- Shaun Crawford – Kid is a ballhawk. Sam Darnold has been a turnover machine. Do the math.
- Jerry Tillery – The lowest moment of Tillery’s career came last year against USC. Watch for him to look for some redemption tonight.
- Josh Adams – Adams has a chance tonight to put his name in the Heisman mix.
How’d I Do Last Week
Before jumping into this week’s prediction, let’s take a look at how I did last time out. Not terrible, but not that great either. I had Notre Dame winning by 34 and they won by 23. I thought that Ian Book wouldn’t have a tough time throwing the football against the undermanned Tar Heels, but he looked kind of like a kid making his first career start since he was in fact making the first start of his career. Overall though, I haven’t been doing too bad this year on the prediction front in terms of being close to the margin of victory or defeat so I guess it wasn’t too bad.
In August I thought this game was a sure loss. USC was supposed to be one of the best 5 teams in the country coming off of their Rose Bowl win over Penn State. I thought Notre Dame would be improved this year but didn’t think the Irish would be improved enough to this point to pull off a win. Well, USC is a lot worse than I thought they would be and Notre Dame is a lot better than I thought they would be as well. It’s taken all week long, but I have come around to think that Notre Dame pulls this one off. I know a lot of the computer models are predicting Notre Dame by a lot, but I’m not ready to go that far.
I think Notre Dame will run the ball well tonight. Adams and Wimbush will both go over 100 yards. Wimbush will be efficient throwing the football but won’t have to throw it a lot. Defensively, Notre Dame will force a couple turnovers but USC will also be the first team to score more than 20 points in a game on a Mike Elko Notre Dame defense. In the end, USC’s injuries and turnovers will prove to be what does them in.
Prediction: Notre Dame 34, USC 31
Preseason Prediction: Notre Dame 24, USC 38
|Week 12: Stanford
|Week 11: Navy
|Week 10: Miami
|Week 9: Wake Forest
|Week 8: #14 NC State
|Week 7: #21 USC
|Week 6: North Carolina
|Week 5: Miami OH
|Week 4: #16 Michigan State
|Week 3: Boston College
|Week 2: #3 Georgia
|Week 1: Temple