Posted on

Regular Season Finale – Notre Dame vs. USC Preview

99-0 is now the combined score of Notre Dame’s last two Senior Night games.  The Irish closed out the home season with a dominant 44-0 win over Boston College on a brutally cold and snowy afternoon in South Bend.  Notre Dame put together another one of their most complete all-around performances and did exactly what a team should do to an inferior opponent, win the game without any questions.  The win propelled the Irish to number 13 in the AP poll (15th in the CFP rankings) and sets the stage for a primetime showdown in Los Angeles against USC this Saturday.

Taking a look at the matchup against the Eagles, Notre Dame not only won, but dominated, every major statistical category – total yards, passing yards, rushing yards, yards per play, first downs, and turnover margin.  Although not 100% perfect, I thought the game plan, play calling, and execution was some of the best that the Irish have shown all year.  Notre Dame found the endzone at least once in each of the first three quarters, but the rapid amount of snow accumulation combined with the score of the game seemed to be enough for the Irish to take their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter.  Drew Pyne finished his final home outing of the season completing 13 of 25 passing attempts for 156 yards through the air and another four yards on his lone rushing attempt.  Michael Mayer was the focal point of the Irish pass game, hauling in five receptions for 64 yards while the three headed monster of Diggs, Estime, and Tyree found a great deal of success in the backfield.  Diggs racked up 122 yards on 15 carries, Estime added another 71 yards on his 11 carries, and Tyree finished with 50 yards on six carries – all averaging over six yards per rush.

Defensively, it was another standout performance from true Freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison.  Morrison was responsible for all three of Emmett Morehead’s interceptions and has continued to prove that he is a cornerstone for the Notre Dame defense’s foundation.  Boston College was held to only 173 total yards on offense, averaged a measly three yards per play, and simply couldn’t find anything that worked.  For a defense that was coming off a game of having to stop the triple option, switching back to defending a pro-style offense is not an easy task and this Irish defense seemed to have no problems adjusting.  After a dominant defensive performance against the Eagles, Notre Dame will certainly have their hands full going up against the high-powered attack that USC brings to the table.

Saturday in Los Angeles will mark the end of the regular season for Marcus Freeman and the Irish and will be a rather pivotal game at that.  In this 93rd matchup between these two storied programs, the Irish come in ranked 15th and after a disappointing 0-2 start, have won eight of the last nine games (including five in a row).  Under first year head coach Lincoln Riley, the Trojans come in ranked 7th boasting a 10-1 record.  This is only the fourth ever matchup in this series where both head coaches are making their debut in the rivalry and this game has the chance of being a historic matchup – the Irish looking to play spoiler to Southern Cal’s playoff hopes. 

The Trojans’ roster composition is rather different from Notre Dame’s with nearly half of their starters being off-season acquisitions from the transfer portal.  Regardless of the makeup, USC has found a great deal of offensive success this year, currently on a five-game streak of scoring at least 40 points per game.  At the helm of this potent offense is quarterback Caleb Williams, an Oklahoma transfer who has already racked up four games with four passing touchdowns and zero interceptions this year.  In typical Southern Cal fashion, the Trojans have an abundance of talent at the skill positions including running back Travis Dye who has over 800 rushing yards and wide receiver Jordan Addison who is averaging 15 yards per catch this season.  Although I would never wish an injury upon anyone, Dye did suffer a season ending injury in the Trojans’ win over Colorado back in mid-November.

For the Irish to come out of Los Angeles with a win, I think there are a few keys to victory.  On the offensive side of the ball for Notre Dame, I think they need to start fast and really hit USC in the mouth from the jump.  Southern Cal’s run defense (and defense as a whole) is nothing extraordinary and Tommy Rees needs to find ways to take advantage of that.  I think this has the opportunity to be a great game for Michael Mayer as I am not a big fan of USC’s linebackers in coverage.  The Trojan defense does like to run a lot of twists and stunts, and it will be imperative the Irish offensive line is able to pick those up.  This matchup should also provide a great opportunity for Notre Dame running backs as the Trojans are giving up nearly five yards per rush this season.  In addition to this, the bigger test will be the Irish defense stopping USC’s offense.  I don’t think the Irish fare well if this game turns into a shootout, Granted, Notre Dame is averaging nearly 40 points per game in the last five contests, but the Irish defense is going to have to come up with some critical stops.  Caleb Williams is an extremely dynamic quarterback, both rushing and passing, but I think the Notre Dame defense can find ways to fluster him.  Williams can be a very hot-tempered leader when things aren’t going his way and if the Irish defenders are able to contain him, apply constant pressure, and let the defensive backs make plays, I think things could turn out favorably for Notre Dame.  Last, but certainly not least, the Irish special teams unit will have to be just that – special.  Southern Cal’s special teams unit has been sub-par to put it lightly, and I have the upmost amount of confidence that Brian Mason will have something dialed up. 

This is one of the most historic rivalries in college football and Saturday night will provide all of us with another chapter.  Playoff hopes are on the line for USC and who better to spoil that chance than their biggest rival.  Notre Dame finds a way to slow, not shut down, the Southern Cal offense and comes out with a 34-28 victory.  Go Irish.  Beat Trojans. 

A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:

Ohio State: 11-0 overall, currently ranked #2, beat Maryland 43-30

Marshall: 7-4 overall, beat Georgia Southern 23-10

California: 4-7 overall, beat Stanford 27-20

North Carolina: 9-2 overall, currently ranked #18, lost to Georgia Tech 21-17

BYU: 6-5 overall, beat Utah Tech 52-26

Stanford: 3-8 overall, lost to California 27-20

UNLV: 4-7 overall, lost to Hawaii 31-25

Syracuse: 6-5 overall, lost to Wake Forest 45-35

Clemson: 10-1 overall, currently ranked #7, beat Miami (FL) 40-10

Navy: 4-7 overall, beat UCF 17-14

Boston College: 3-8 overall, lost to Notre Dame 44-0

USC: 10-1 overall, currently ranked #5, beat UCLA 48-45