It’s Notre Dame – USC week and the Irish are a double-digit favorite, and the Trojans look to be trending down. There’s a lot to be optimistic about this week. Then riddle me this, why am I irrationally worried about Notre Dame this week? Everything looks set up for Notre Dame to have another big win over rival USC tomorrow. Something has me worried, though. Am I just a broken fan right now, or should Notre Dame be on upset watch?
Since I’ve already confessed to you all I am worried about this week, let’s jump right into what exactly has me concerned.
What Worries Me This Week
USC’s speedy wide receivers. This one is the most obvious. USC has some dudes at wide receiver. There is no other way to put it. If there is one position where we would all trade players with USC without thinking, it’s wide receiver. And our wide receivers are pretty damn good in their own right. USC has big, athletic, fast receivers who can – and will – win jump balls and can get behind a defense if someone lets them.
Last year Notre Dame played scared of the USC receivers and gave them an insane cushion that JT Daniels took advantage of in the first half. Clark Lea adjusted eventually, and USC slowed down. I don’t think Lea should have his guys play too much man coverage because that is what USC wants. Notre Dame’s secondary isn’t deep enough right now for that. They shouldn’t play 10 yards off of the line of scrimmage either, though.
It will be a balancing act for Lea this week in terms of trying to mix coverages and confuse Kedon Slovis while not putting his corners in tough spots. The one way USC stays in the game is with its wide receivers.
Notre Dame being a double-digit favorite over USC. Call me paranoid, but I just don’t feel comfortable with Notre Dame being a double-digit favorite over USC. Yeah, they aren’t that good, and their head coach is kinda terrible, but it’s a rivalry game, and despite their record, they have the talent to hang with Notre Dame. This is a veteran Notre Dame team that should be able to remain focused and not overlook USC this week, but you never know.
I would feel better if Notre Dame were like a 6-7 point favorite and they could play the disrespect card all week. Instead, they’ve heard most of the week that they should beat USC easily – at least from those outside of the Gug. I dunno, I just don’t feel comfortable when Notre Dame is this big of a favorite against a rival with the level of talent that USC has.
Notre Dame’s vertical passing game – again. Notre Dame pushed the ball downfield more against Bowling Green, but it was Bowling Green after all. We need to see it against a team like USC to say for sure that Notre Dame is progressing in this area. Look, this is a game tailormade for Ian Book to make a statement. USC is okay on defense, but they aren’t great. There are matchups that he can exploit. Will he? I don’t know.
I would love nothing more than to see Ian Book light up USC for 300+ yards and 4 TDs, but I don’t know that he will. He struggled against USC for a half last year before he started slinging it in the 2nd half. If we get the Ian Book from the 2nd half of that game from the jump tomorrow, Notre Dame is going to be just fine, and all of my concerns will be overblown.
Special teams. Just kick the ball out of bounds on kickoffs and call it a day. USC kick returner Velus Jones Jr is a bad man. Just don’t kick it to him. This is the kind of game where USC needs a big special teams play to be in the game – similar to how we needed one in 2005. So make it impossible for that to happen by not giving them a chance.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
USC’s offensive line. If Kedon Slovis doesn’t get the ball out quick, he will be under pressure. USC’s offensive line is okay, but it’s not one that should be able to hold up against Notre Dame’s pass rush. Slovis can negate some of that if he gets the ball out quick like Daniels did last year. If he isn’t able to, Notre Dame’s defensive line is going to have an opportunity for some sacks this week. I do slightly worry that Slovis will be able to get the ball out quick, but when he doesn’t, the Notre Dame pass rush should get home.
USC getting Kedon Slovis back. I am not too concerned with USC getting their 3-star true freshman quarterback for this game. He’s got weapons, sure, but he is also a true freshman making a start on the road against a top 10 team. USC has just not been good away from home in recent years, and this year is no different. In Slovis’s only start on the road, he threw three interceptions against BYU. He did light up Stanford at home, but we’re learning that Stanford isn’t very good this year.
Notre Dame’s pass rush should be able to harass a freshman starting on the road into some mistakes. Hopefully, the Notre Dame crowd makes some noise and helps in that matter, but I’m not exactly holding my breath on that one.
The weather. Oh my God, did you hear it’s going to be freezing in South Bend this weekend?!? It’s not. But if you read some reports, it sure sounds like it will be. Temps for kickoff will probably be in the high 40’s, and while that’s a bit unseasonably cold, it’s not freezing. I don’t think the weather is going to impact the outcome of this game one way or another. Sure, it’ll be colder than USC is used to, but this isn’t like when Florida State visited last November, and it was downright frigid on the sidelines.
Players I’m Watching
- Jafar Armstrong – How much will he play? Will he be a decoy? Will he get a ton of touches? It’ll be interesting to watch.
- Julian Okwara – Notre Dame needs the Julian Okwara who played against UVA this weekend to terrorize Slovis this weekend. He doesn’t need to have multiple sacks again, but he needs to force Slovis into some mistakes.
- TaRiq Bracy – He got benched in LA last year against this same group of wide receivers. He’s been holding his own this year including keeping up with UGA’s receivers. He’ll get a chance for payback this weekend.
- Kyle Hamilton – Greg is telling anyone who will listen that Hamilton has a national breakout game. And it makes sense. Hamilton is going to be used all over the field, and he could easily get his hands on another interception (or two).
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – He could be a liability this week if Notre Dame asks him to do too much in coverage. You all know I love me some JOK, but I am a little concerned that he gets asked to do too much.
- Michael Young – Can Notre Dame get him going? He’s been back for two weeks so far but has not seen many targets and hasn’t had a big impact yet. Is this the week he has his 2019 breakout performance?
If you haven’t been able to tell by now, I am not nearly as confident as most Notre Dame fans about this game. It does feel a bit like a role reversal from the 2009 game in a way, though. USC comes in with a lot of great skill position players but no offensive line and a likely lame-duck coaching staff. They have the firepower to not only make this interesting but to make it miserable for Notre Dame fans.
Similarly to how USC ended up holding on against the Irish in 2009 (thanks in part to some poor clock management from Charlies Weis), though I think Notre Dame hangs on and wins much less impressively thank Notre Dame fans are hoping for. Notre Dame fans want to see a repeat of 2017 when the Irish stomped the Trojans 49-14. I’d love to see that happen again and would love nothing more than to be wrong, but I have the feeling that this one will be close in the end.
Notre Dame 31, USC 27