Notre Dame Football Primer: Irish Seek Improvement Against South Florida

After an unsettling victory in Notre Dame’s first official Atlantic Coast Conference matchup, the Irish seek to improve on their performance this week against South Florida. Many newcomers stepped up for the Irish Offense last weekend, and there are undoubtedly several positives moving forward. But Brian Kelly’s team has a long way to go to make the ACC Championship Game.

Essential Game Info:

  • Game Time: September 19th at 2:30 p.m. ET on USA
  • Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
  • Matchup History: The Irish are 0-1 all-time against South Florida (Last Meeting 2011: Bulls won 23 to 20)

· Current Odds: Notre Dame -24.5

Weather Forecast

The current forecast for GameDay shows a 10% chance of rain with a high of 67 degrees and a low of 47.

South Florida Details:

  • Conference: American Athletic Conference
  • Head Coach: Jeff Scott
  • 2020 Record: 1-0
  • 2019 Record: 4-8

South Florida Storylines:

South Florida defeated the Irish back in 2011. There is no way around it. Before we dive into this weekend’s matchup, we must first reflect on the only meeting between these two programs. Skip Holtz coached the Bulls at the time, and Brian Kelly was entering his second season in South Bend.

This was one of the most disappointing moments for the program this past decade, but fortunately, Notre Dame bounced back and made the national championship the following season.

Jeff Scott takes over as Head Coach. It appears the Irish keep running into connections to Clemson Football with Chase Brice last week, and now a long time Clemson Coach, Jeff Scott. The South Florida Head Coach Scott was with the Clemson Tigers from 2008 to 2019. In the past several seasons, he was co-offensive coordinator with the juggernaut program.

Critical players for South Florida. The Bulls Offense is led by quarterbacks Jordan McCloud and Noah Johnson. McCloud appears to be more of a passing threat as he went 11 for 16 for 68 yards and one touchdown. While Noah Johnson had 7 carries for 49 yards and only attempted 4 passes.

Last week, the South Florida Defense was headlined by linebacker Antonio Grier with 10 tackles and defensive tackle Thad Mangum who tallied 9 tackles.

Notre Dame Storylines:

Irish Offense struggles in home opener. Notre Dame did not pick up a first down until the second quarter. That was certainly not the start fans were hoping for after an unprecedented offseason. Both the passing attack and running game struggled against the Duke Defense. Now, the Irish were able to put up 27 points on the board and have a lot of opportunity for improvement, but I am glad the Irish do not square off against the Clemson Tigers until November.

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More players need to step up for the Irish Offense. There were several bright spots on offense with Kyren Williams rushing for 112 yards and totaling 93 receiving yards. Joe Wilkins and Michael Mayer also proved to be viable options in the passing game. However, the offense is still missing a “go-to” option.

Maybe Braden Lenzy will be the guy once he is healthy or Kevin Austin Jr., but who knows if Austin will be back in time for the Clemson matchup.

Notre Dame Defense continues to dominate. Clark Lea’s defense controlled the football game in their first matchup. The unit only gave up one touchdown against the Blue Devils, which started on Notre Dame’s 39-yard line. As mentioned in the past, when the Notre Dame Offense is struggling, the team can always count on the defense to be a constant on the field.

Head to Head Matchups:

Notre Dame Offense vs. South Florida Defense: Yes, the Irish offense was lackluster for most of the game against Duke, but it was week one, and who knows how good the Blue Devils will be this fall. If Ian Book can improve the offense throughout the season like he did last year, Notre Dame should be in good shape.

The South Florida Defense held The Citadel to only six points last Saturday. Undoubtedly, the Bulls will try to replicate what the Duke Defense accomplished last weekend. Do not expect South Florida to shut down Notre Dame, but they may slow them down early.

Advantage: Notre Dame

South Florida Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense: Based on South Florida’s first game, it seems as though Jeff Scott is using a variety of quarterbacks to change up the looks for opposing defenses. But it is not going to make a difference against this Irish Defense. Last Saturday, Clark Lea’s defense was by far the best unit on the field.

Notre Dame has many players they can substitute in to keep the defense fresh. Hopefully, Kyle Hamilton will be back sooner rather than later, but this defense is still in a great position this weekend against the Bulls.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Special Teams: For most of the contest, the Irish Offense struggled to get the ball in the endzone, and Jonathan Doerer was able to help and put points on the scoreboard. His kicking allowed Notre Dame to go up by two scores during the game.

Conversely, Spencer Shrader of South Florida was 0 for 1 on his field-goal attempts last weekend.

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There is no distinct advantage in this matchup.

Tie

My Prediction:

Unfortunately, I do not expect the Irish Offense to catch fire after last weekend suddenly, but there should be small areas of improvement. It is never a good sign when Notre Dame must run a fake punt on its own 21-yard line to get a first down against Duke. In 2019, it took a game-winning drive against Virginia Tech to jump start this offense. Hopefully, it does not take that long this season.

I am going with the same score prediction as last week. The Bulls may get a touchdown against this Irish Defense but expect that to be it. Tommy Rees and Ian Book should be able to produce at least another touchdown on top of last weekend’s performance.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34 South Florida 13

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