Notre Dame Football Primer: Irish Host Archrival USC Trojans

Here we go again. The Fighting Irish will face yet another ranked opponent in yet another primetime showdown.

Not only have the Irish played more games than any other team in the country, but this Saturday marks four straight night games against four undefeated opponents. The USC Trojans survived a three-overtime thriller at home last week and are vulnerable for an upset. Can Marcus Freeman salvage the season and knock off the Lincoln Riley and the #10 USC Trojans? Fans will have to wait until Saturday Night again to find out!

Essential Game Info:

  • Game Time: Saturday, October 14th at 7:30 PM on NBC
  • Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
  • Matchup History: Notre Dame is 48-37-5 all-time against the USC Trojans (Last Meeting 2022: Trojans won 38 to 27)
  • Current Odds: Notre Dame -2.0

USC Details

  • Conference: Pac-12
  • Head Coach: Lincoln Riley
  • 2023 Record: 6-0 (4-0)
  • 2022 Record: 11-3 (8-2)

Weather Forecast

The current GameDay forecast shows a 60% chance of rain, with a high of 53 degrees and a low of 49.

USC Storylines:

Lincoln Riley gets his first taste of this rivalry in South Bend. This was supposed to be a top-ten showdown at Notre Dame Stadium; however, the Fighting Irish had different plans. USC is ranked #10 in the AP Poll, but they have yet to play like a College Football Playoff contender. Anticipate Irish fans to be loud inside the stadium, but if the Notre Dame Offense does not do something early on, the stadium could go silent.

The Trojans survived a 3 overtime thriller last weekend. When looking through the boxscore Sunday morning, most fans expected a five-touchdown victory over the Arizona Wildcats. Instead, the USC Trojans narrowly escaped at home with a 2-point thriller.

Heisman winner Caleb Williams leads the Trojans Offense. Williams is 119 for 166 (71%) with 22 passing touchdowns, 1 interception, and 11 sacks taken. On the ground, he has 38 attempts for 124 yards (3.3 yards per carry) with 6 rushing scores. The ground attack is led by Marshawn Lloyd, who has 67 carries for 519 (7.7 yards per carry) and 4 rushing scores.

The top wide receivers for the Trojans are Tahj Washington and Brenden Rice. This season, Washington has 21 receptions for 456 yards with 5 touchdowns, while Rice has 21 catches for 434 yards and 7 scores.

Notre Dame Storylines:

Notre Dame Football is in desperate need of a break. After playing in Duke’s “Super Bowl” and Louisville’s “Super Bowl” the past two weekends, the Irish will face an even better USC Trojans program. I am not here to make excuses for my team; however, there is a reason that there has only been one ever undefeated NFL Super Bowl champion, it is difficult to win at any level.

If Notre Dame Football is going to remain independent, they cannot continue to schedule a week 0 game followed by eight straight matchups before a bye week. I understand it is challenging to schedule seven “non-conference” games, but if it is too hard to strategically place a “bye-week” before the heart of the schedule, then maybe the Irish need to join a conference.

Where do I begin with the Irish Offense? I will let the statistics do most of the talking. Last week, Sam Hartman went 22 for 38 with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions with a 27.1 QBR. Jeremiyah Love had 5 carries for 37 yards, while Audric Estime had 10 carries for 20 yards. Navy, Tennessee State, Central Michigan, and NC State were not the most formidable opponents, but the offense should not have the drop off like fans have seen the past three weekends.

Notre Dame may not have a 5-star wideout, but the roster is full of 4-star wide receivers who have yet to step up. There is too much talent not to have a single receiver that can win a 50/50 ball or take over a game ( Mitchell Evans has shown glimpses at the tight end position).

I have nothing against Gerad Parker, but letting him go at the end of the season is the only option that I can conclude. The Fighting Irish have elite quarterbacks coming in and had top-tier talent this year. These athletes need a better offensive mind to lead them.

Can Marcus Freeman get his team up for USC? Well, I can tell you that everyone who paid for tickets this weekend certainly hopes he can (including myself). I know the Irish will be exhausted and down this week, but if they can play the role of underdog and keep this game close until the 4th quarter, the crowd will be on their feet.

If Caleb Williams lights up the Irish Defense early and the Notre Dame Offense struggles, then I do not see an outcome where the Irish ever catch up.

Head-to-Head Matchups:

Notre Dame Offense vs. USC Defense: The Fighting Irish Offense is averaging 18 points per game during the past three weeks, while the Trojans Defense has allowed 37 points in the last three games. Notre Dame has a slight advantage in this matchup because the USC Defense has been bad since coach Riley took over in Los Angeles.

Sam Hartman and Audric Estime are still one of the best quarterback and running back duos in the nation. Gerad Parker needs to find ways to maximize these two again.

Advantage: Notre Dame

USC vs. Notre Dame Defense: The USC Trojans averaged 44 points per the last three matchups, while the Fighting Irish allowed 21 points per game in their previous three contests. Caleb Williams and the Trojans Offense unequivocally has the advantage in this matchup after the Irish were shredded by Jack Plummer last week.

Not only will Al Golden be trying to slow down the air attack, but Caleb Williams can torch defenses on the ground. What about forcing turnovers? The USC quarterback has only had one interception all year.

Advantage: USC

Special Teams: Spencer Shrader is 7 for 12 this season, with his longest conversion at 54 yards. The USC kicker Denis Lynch is 3 for 5 with his longest conversion at 53 yards.

There is no clear advantage on special teams.

Advantage: Tie

My Prediction:

The most demoralizing aspect of the Fighting Irish getting knocked out of the playoffs was their potential. Notre Dame has made the College Football Playoffs two times, and finished one spot out of the playoffs another season. I believed this was the best Irish team I had seen during the playoff era and maybe this century.

As I mentioned earlier, Marcus Freeman must get his team off to a fast start in this game. If not, the USC Trojans will destroy them like the Charlie Weis days. Fans still have not forgotten Caleb Williams had explicit language against the Irish on his fingernails last year. If that does not fire up the team and fans, then I do not know what will.

Unfortunately, I have the Irish losing to the Trojans by 11 points. As with all my Notre Dame losing predictions, I definitely hope they prove me wrong and I will be in the stands cheering them on as I did against Ohio State three weeks ago.

Prediction: USC 35, Notre Dame 24

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  1. Based on what we’ve seen I agree with Michael. Not much reason for optimism. Of course I hope they win. It’s USC and I’d love to see a bounce back. But I can’t help but think this time next week we’ll be talking about our 3rd loss. It doesn’t much matter. Until the PTBs at ND care about NCs again we’re not going to win any. They’re perfectly happy to line off the history as the money keeps rolling in.

  2. A little early to call for Gerad Parker’s release.
    Bayou Brian’s long-sought albeit sudden escape from ND, and his weak lazy efforts at pursuing the most elite are telling, especially at WR and QB before Sam. Without ND having either a reliable go-to WR who can extend the field, or an OL that can stifle the relentless blitzes, teams will stack the box and stunt. $Cs D’ is woeful, but they have enough athletes to disrupt NDs weak O’. This game will be ugly for ND fans. You can’t fix this in a week, or even this season.
    For the eighth consecutive week, ND will play an undefeated team, and the fourth week they will play in prime time against a rated team. That’s not an excuse; that’s reality.
    Name me another team that has had that to face. This mid-season four week stretch is brutal.
    The emotions of repeated big games and the opponents’ wise use of the transfer portal have affected outcomes.
    No stopping Caleb, and he and Riley now recognize after the last weeks (vs. the Arizonas and the Louisville result ), they need to win big to boost their ranking. And unlike when Kelly was at ND, $C now has a real head coach. Riley, upon arrival, went out and stacked his team with over 20 transfers- which is to say- welcome to modern football. Ask Prime, even Marshall, recognizing the days of developing your Freshman recruits are over. Welcome to modern football where, as usual, the NCAA refuses to monitor violations, from NIL “Follow the money!” Until ND willingly spends their excessive money on support staff and players, we can all conveniently attack staff burdened by a pre-transfer portal era mentality that will now dictate which teams make the most impressive improvements from season to season.
    Get with the modern era of college football or be left behind.
    That, every bit as much as the schemes practiced, will determine NDs future football success.

    1. Sadly ND cant even get help in transfer portal with its standards, changes have to be made. From coaching to administration the #1 thing should be to win, cant say thats how it is now.

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