Each week has been a battle for the 2021 Fighting Irish. Brian Kelly led Notre Dame Football to a 5-1 record and #13 ranking in the AP Poll. After a bye-week, the Irish anticipate getting several players back and healthy. It will be the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium this season, as the USC Trojans visit once again. Although the Trojans are not at their peak, anything can happen in a rivalry game. The last time these rivals met, the game was decided by only 3-points.
Essential Game Info:
- Game Time: Saturday, October 23rd at 7:30 PM ET on NBC
- Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
- Matchup History: The Irish are 49-36-5 all-time against the USC Trojans (Last Meeting 2019: Notre Dame won 30 to 27)
- Current Odds: Notre Dame -6.5
The current forecast for GameDay shows a 15% chance of rain with a high of 58 degrees and a low of 43.
- Conference: Pac-12 (South Division)
- Head Coach: Donte Williams (interim Head Coach)
- 2021 Record: 3-3 (2-3)
- 2020 Record: 4-1 (4-1)
Trojans fire Clay Helton in week two of the season. After a 42 to 28 loss against Stanford, the USC administration finally had enough and decided to fire Helton essentially at the start of the season. Unfortunately, this series has not seen many ranked matchups during the Brian Kelly era. In the early 2000s, the Trojans controlled the rivalry, and now the Irish have dominated the last decade.
I would love to see more ranked matchups in this series and potentially top-10 showdowns, because this rivalry is one of the best in college football.
Donte Williams takes over as interim head coach. Williams has been with the Trojans since 2020 as a cornerbacks coach. Since his takeover, the program has gone 2-2.
Key USC Players. The Trojans are led by quarterback Kedon Slovis who is 135 for 211 (64%) with 1,519 passing yards, 9 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. On the ground, Slovis has 16 attempts for -6 rushing yards.
Keaontay Ingram is the leading rusher, while Drake London is the standout receiver for the USC Trojans. This year, Ingram has 74 rushes for 419 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and 3 rushing scores. London has a staggering 64 receptions for 832 yards and 5 receiving touchdowns.
Notre Dame Storylines:
Who will start under center against USC? I could write an entire article on the quarterback carousel at Virginia Tech. However, it looks like both quarterbacks will get a lot of playing time throughout this rivalry contest. There were positives and negatives for each quarterback, but the main headline was an Irish victory. Notre Dame fans should be ecstatic for the future of Tyler Buchner and the poise of Jack Coan late in games this year.
The Trojans will undoubtedly be preparing for both players this weekend, but personally, I would like to see Buchner start and see what he can do with four quarters.
Notre Dame’s rushing attack improved against Virginia Tech. With the help of Tyler Buchner’s speed in the option attack, Joe Alt at left tackle, and Andrew Kristofic at guard, the Irish were able to compile 180-yards on the ground. Undoubtedly, those statistics would not be unusual for Notre Dame last season, but in 2021 it was a remarkable performance.
Kyren Williams led the way with 81-yards, followed by Buchner with 67-yards, and true freshman Logan Diggs with 29-yards.
Irish Defense will look to get back on track. It was shocking to see the below-average Hokie Offense put up 22-points on this Notre Dame Defense. Virginia Tech totaled 321-yards against the Irish while going 8 for 17 against Marcus Freeman’s unit on 3rd down opportunities.
USC’s west coast offense comes into South Bend this weekend, and the Irish Defense must show up like they had in previous weeks.
Notre Dame Offense vs. USC Defense: The Irish Offense is averaging 368-yards per game. Conversely, the Trojan Defense is surrounding 382-yards per contest this fall. USC allowed 42-points to Stanford, 45-points to Oregon State, and 42-points to Utah this year.
Although fans do not know what they will get out of the Irish Offense each week, I give Notre Dame’s unit the slight advantage.
Advantage: Notre Dame
USC Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense: USC is totaling 448-yards per game in 2021, while Marcus Freeman’s Defense is allowing 361-yards. The Notre Dame Defense has been up and down this year. They did not look their best against Virginia Tech, but they also played tremendous in the three games prior.
Purdue’s route of #2 Iowa helped make the Irish look better, as David Bell compiled 11 catches for 240-yards. Notre Dame held the Boilermakers to only 13-points in week three.
This game is at home, and I give the Irish Defense the advantage.
Advantage: Notre Dame
Special Teams: The USC kicking game is headlined by Parker Lewis, who is 10 for 11 with a long of 49-yards. Likewise, Notre Dame’s Jonathan Doerer is 8 for 11 this year, with a long of 51-yards. Doerer has kicked two incredible game-winners against Florida State and Virginia Tech this season.
There is no clear advantage in the special teams department.
Every game this season has been hard fought for the Irish. Yes, USC is only 3-3, and Notre Dame is the better team, but this is one of the top rivalries in college football. The last time these two teams met in 2019, the Irish had the better team, but a three-point victory resulted. I recall the USC buses shaking before the game outside the stadium, so I do not anticipate the Trojans to come into this matchup hungry to knock off their rival.
Notre Dame Stadium has been rocking all season, and I anticipate the team will build off the momentum from these close victories. Tommy Rees and Marcus Freeman have continued to adjust throughout the season. As players get healthy from the bye-week, look for Notre Dame to attack the remaining six games.
I believe this matchup will be close early on, but the Irish want to start a new winning streak in South Bend and will pull away in the second half.
Prediction: Notre Dame 34 USC 20