Notre Dame will look to avoid losing its fourth straight game when they travel to California to take on arch-rival USC. The second half of the season has been riddled with mistakes, poor decisions and injuries which have led to a vastly different opinion on the Irish than that of six weeks ago. The Trojans will test the Irish defense as they have many athletes and a talented quarterback capable of putting up big numbers. Irish signal-caller Everett Golson will also need to get back to his early season form for the Irish to succeed as the Trojans possess little depth but a great deal of talent on the defensive side of the ball. The following are the key matchups the Irish must control to emerge victorious:
Tarean Folston versus Hayes Pullard: Irish running back Tarean Folston has been a bright light during the second half struggles for Notre Dame and will need another big effort versus Hayes Pullard and the Trojans. Folston consistently rushes for over 100 yards when he is given an appropriate number of carries and it would be wise to give him the ball over 20 times on the road to control time of possession similar to the Florida State game. Pullard is the emotional leader of the Trojans defense and has a team-high 84 tackles from his linebacker spot.
Ronnie Stanley versus Leonard Williams: Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has been criticised as have the other members of the Irish offensive line for their subpar play in recent weeks. The Nevada native will need his best effort of the season this week when he faces Leonard Williams. Williams is a consensus top five pick in the upcoming NFL draft and is the best defensive end in the country. Williams has a team-high six sacks and three forced fumbles while consistently facing double and triple teams all season.
Jaylon Smith versus Javorius Allen: Butkus award finalist Jaylon Smith will need to get the Irish defense back on track as they face a lethal and balanced Trojans offense led by running back Javorius Allen. Smith has been solid all season for the Irish but has seen his play drop off slightly since Joe Schmidt’s injury. Allen is a back that possesses good speed and power and averages over 100 yards rushing per game as well as being USC’s third-leading receiver.
Cole Luke versus Nelson Agholor: Fresh off an excellent game versus elite receiver DeVante Parker, Cole Luke will need another great effort to slow down Nelson Agholor. Luke has shown his ability to be a shutdown corner this season as he has good speed to go along with excellent instincts and ball skills. Agholor is by far the Trojans most dangerous weapon as he has a team-high 85 receptions for 1103 yards and 10 touchdowns. Agholor has elite speed so Luke may need safety help to slow him down.