After a bye week, Notre Dame returns to action tonight to rest and recharge following a draining first half of the season. The Irish host archrival USC who comes to town with an interim head coach following the early season dismissal of Notre Dame fan favorite Clay Helton. USC has been blowout multiple already this season. So is this Notre Dame’s chance to finally play a game that isn’t close, or are we in for another anxiety-producing evening?
What Worries Me This Week
A slow start
This goes back to the decision by Brian Kelly to start Jack Coan this week. While we did see Coan rally Notre Dame late against Virginia Tech, those two drives have been the outlier for Coan and the Irish offense over the last five games. Notre Dame has struggled to get off to fast starts with Coan at the helm.
Against Virginia Tech, Coan started the first three drives, and the offense went nowhere. Against Cincinnati, Coan marched the Irish down the field on their first drive only to throw a brutal interception in the redzone.
The only way I see USC making this a game or having a chance to pull off the upset is IF Notre Dame starts slow and lets the Trojans hang around for a while. A team with an interim head coach on the road could very well wilt if they find themselves down a lot early. The problem is that Notre Dame has not shown us at all this year that they can have a fast start. If Notre Dame were to end the first quarter with 14 or more points, this one probably isn’t close.
USC treating this like their Super Bowl
With their head coach fired and three losses on the season already, USC does not have much to play for now other than beating their rivals – Notre Dame and UCLA. That’s not a great combination for the rival in many instances because while every rivalry game should be treated as a huge game, it’s a lot easier for the team ranked with a 5-1 record to take it a little more lightly.
USC has athletes and has good players. They have just been a terrible team this year, by USC standards. That doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of putting up a fight or having a great individual game here and there, though.
Drake London, and only Drake London on offense for USC
USC’s offense is almost doubly one-dimensional this year. They don’t run that much, and when they throw it, which they often do, it’s almost always to Drake London. London already has 64 receptions on the season. Notre Dame’s lead receiver, Michael Mayer, has 32 for comparison sake. After London, the next closest USC receiver has 22 receptions. None of their tight ends have more than 8 receptions on the season.
London is a great talent and is putting up some video game numbers this year, but he is really all they have doing on offense at the moment. Even in games that USC has lost, Londo has still had some big outings. He had 165 and 162 yards in blowout losses to Oregon State and Utah. So even when he does get his, USC still loses sometimes.
Still, Notre Dame has to account for London with overcompensating for him and opening up opportunities for players who haven’t done much to date.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
It will be in the high 40’s at kickoff, with temperatures dropping throughout the night. A lot of USC players will not have played in temperatures that cold before. Most of you should have seen her reaction of USC running back Keonaty Ingram by now.
Combine a California team on the ropes whose coach has been fired with cold temperatures that they haven’t played in before, and you have the recipe for a team to give up early. But, again, that will only be IF the Irish do their part. If Notre Dame lets USC hang around or take an early lead, all bets are off, and the weather won’t matter.
Remember what Florida State did in 2018, though, when the temperatures were much colder for their Senior Day visit to South Bend. They quit before the game even started.
USC does not have a very good defense. Utah put up 42 on them. Oregon State got 45. Stanford 42. In their three losses this season, each opponent topped 40 points. In their wins – San Jose State, Washington State, Colorado – their opponents scored 7, 14, and 14, respectively. Solid to good offenses have put up points in bunches on USC this year, though.
Notre Dame should be able to score points tonight. Will they top 40 for the third time this year? Maybe not. The only times Notre Dame got to 40 this year, they either needed overtime or multiple defensive and special teams touchdowns to do it.
With the stability Notre Dame found on the offensive line against Virginia Tech and, hopefully, a more robust package for Tyler Buchner, I think the Notre Dame offense does have one of its better nights of the season, though.
Marcus Freeman scheming something up for Londo
We’ve seen Marcus Freeman cook up a scheme to slow down a team with a good passing attack that all flows through one dynamic receiver before. In week three, Notre Dame pretty much shut down David Bell and the Purdue passing attack. Freeman used a lot more Dime defense and dared Purdue to run it. They didn’t, and they never got going offensively. Had Iowa done something similar last weekend, they’d still be #2 in the country.
USC has seen what Freeman did against Purdue and will likely plan accordingly, but so too will Freeman. He’ll adjust what they did in week three, but the important thing here is that we have proof that Freeman can shut down an offense like USC’s, where there is just one dynamic playmaker to account for. I expect we will see more evidence of that tonight.
Players to Watch
- Braden Lenzy – I will speak this into existence if it’s the last thing I do, but please, for the love of God, get this kid the ball on an end-around or something similar.
- Kyren Williams – This feels like a game where the staff will get Williams heavily involved in the passing game.
- Michael Mayer – He’s back and could have a monster game with Jack Coan starting.
- Logan Diggs – If Chris Tyree is out, we could see a lot more of Diggs this week. He looked silky smooth against VT.
- Kyle Hamilton – How Freeman deploys Hamilton will be interesting. He could use Hamilton to bracket London and erase him. They might not allow for many big plays to impressive 5-star S Xavier Nwankpa, who is visiting, but it could be very effective.
- Isaiah Foskey – The CA native gets to play against USC for the first time. He could have a big night.
- Jordan Botelho – Is this the game we finally see him get some run as a pass rusher?
- Cam Hart – He’s been a lockdown corner over the last month and a half. If they let him on an island with Drake and he wins, USC might not score much at all.
Notre Dame has played close game after close game this year, and it’s been draining on the team, the staff, and the fans. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Yes, Notre Dame has holes, and they are far from perfect, but USC doesn’t just have holes this year. They have some craters. They are bringing in an interim head coach who started the year as a cornerbacks coach. Even if USC quarterback Jaxson Dart plays, I still don’t see USC being able to score a ton of points, on the road, against the Notre Dame defense. Look for Coan and Buchner to each have two touchdowns (either running or passing) and the Notre Dame offense to show signs of life tonight.
Notre Dame 37, USC 17