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Dawg Preview: #5 USC vs #21 Notre Dame

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

The 97-year-old historic intersectional rivalry kicks off once again on a Fall Saturday night as #5 USC comes to South Bend to face #21 Notre Dame. The Jeweled Shillelagh and plenty of rivalry bad blood will be on the line when the game kicks off at 6:30 pm CST on Peacock/NBC. This will be the 94th meeting of both teams, Notre Dame leads 48-37-5. No other rivalry has more combined National Championships (22), NFL Hall of Famers (28), and Heisman Trophy winners (15).

Both teams may have been looking ahead last week as they’re coming off lackluster performances, particularly the Irish, who wish to bounce back from a disastrous loss at Louisville in which the effort, execution, and coaching were not up to standard. Similarly, the Trojans managed to squeak by 3-3 Arizona in triple overtime.

USC at 6-0 still have everything to play for and, as such, are under less pressure, since even with a loss at Notre Dame, their playoff hopes would be still intact should they go on to win the PAC-12.

Contrarily, Notre Dame and Head Coach Marcus Freeman desperately need a signature win to stop the bleeding after a heartbreaking loss to Ohio St, squeaking by #17 Duke, and a dreadful loss to #25 Louisville.

Inside the numbers:

Interestingly, Vegas has 5-2 Fighting Irish favored by –2.5 points. We suspect the relative strength of schedules is holding sway. Both teams have been in close games that came down to the wire, but from a quality of opponent standpoint, USC is not as battle-tested, as their opponents’ combined record is 10-25. Contrarily, Notre Dame’s opponents are 24-9 including 3 ranked teams two of which were on the road in primetime.

Both teams have top units on one side of the ball, but middling units on the other. An interesting aspect of Saturday night is that it will result in strength on strength and weakness on weakness. Specifically, the Trojan offense vs the Irish defense and vice versa.

USC ranks 1st nationally in scoring offense with 51.8 points a game, while Notre Dame’s battle-tested defense ranks 15th nationally with 15.9 points per game.

Contrarily, USC’s struggling defense is 79th in points allowed and 112th in yards per game and will face a struggling Irish offense, particularly the past two weeks, where the wheels completely came off at Duke and Louisville as they only managed to score 21 and 20 points respectively.

Key Players USC offense and Notre Dame strategy to mitigate:

Any discussion of impact players must start and end with Caleb Williams, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and easily the most dynamic player in the country. The key for the Irish defense will be to minimize his ability to scramble and improvise by containing him and pressuring throws, otherwise, he will make explosive plays happen all night. USC will get their yards and points, but minimizing explosive plays and forcing field goals will be the formula for Al Golden’s ND defense.

Similarly, Notre Dame will need to stop RB Marshawn Loyd to help force USC’s offense to be one-dimensional and be able to dial up pressure on Caleb Williams. From an explosive plays standpoint, explosive freshman Zachariah Branch is likely to return. Notre Dame’s defense and special teams will have to find a way to put a lid on this explosive player. They really ought not even to kick him on punts or kickoffs. He’s too dangerous.

Key players on Notre Dame's offense and USC’s strategy to mitigate:

USC's strategy on defense: will be to try and stop the run and make Sam Hartman and the ND boundary receivers beat you on the outside and downfield (a glaring weakness the last 3 weeks), However, this is easier said than done as the Trojans defense has been very poor at stopping the run this year and will have to tackle bruiser running back Audric Estime, and explosive counter puncher, Jeremiyah Love. To this end, Notre Dame’s success or failure could well be determined by their physical offensive line led by Joe Alt and Blake Fisher.

Where the Trojan high-pressure defense could excel is by forcing a few turnovers, as that could be the difference, as it's likely that ND will need to make the most of its possessions and score in the 30-point range to win against USC’s scoring offense (currently ranked #1 in the country). In the Irish’s favor, the SC secondary has not been great this year, as even San Jose and Nevada were able to put up impressive passing numbers.

USC does get back starting cornerback Domini Jackson this week, Similarly, the 2022 First Team All-American safety, Calen Bullock will have to be an impact player for the Trojans when it comes to stepping up into run support and breaking up Hartman’s passing. Something to watch for as far as tone and how this game will go is the relative physicality between the Irish offense and the Trojan defense’s willingness to step up and make physical tackles.

Conclusion and predictions:

The Irish are 2.5-point favorites and the Over/Under is 62.5. We don’t love either line, thinking it could go down to the wire. Similarly, on a cold, rainy night in South Bend, that could keep the score down or right around the total.

Patrick McCormick, College Football Dawgs Contributor: This Notre Dame team is so mercurial, I don’t love it, because it's hard to know which team shows up, but in a rivalry game in South Bend, I think the Irish will show up physically, and ready to dominate the line of scrimmage and dominate early. Caleb Williams and the big play SC offense get into a grove towards the middle of the 3rd quarter, but it's not enough in the end.

Notre Dame 34 - USC 27

Hunter Dworsky, President of College Football Dawgs- USC vs Notre Dame, the game we have all waited for (if you are a Trojan or leprechaun that is)

As I am writing this, the forecast has changed dramatically, with 20% of slight showers during kick-off, the temperature increased by 10+ degrees and the wind decreased to 10-14 mph. Is this Los Angeles weather? no, but regardless if it was Hurricane or Santa Monica weather, it wouldn't matter. Caleb Williams is a winner, he cannot be stopped, even with one leg or some rain. The pressure is on for Caleb and co. to show they belong in the College Football Playoff.

Future Heisman hopeful freshman star, Zachariah Branch, was 50/50 throughout the week, my sources say he will make an appearance in the game, but how much is yet to be determined? This would be a game-changer! The Trojans will use the RPO and screens to spread out the Notre Dame defense and get the ball out quickly. USC has an elite offensive line, watch the film, Caleb has 15-20 seconds in the pocket while only a minimal amount of holding calls have been thrown. Look for Willaims to create and extend plays down the field and use his legs in pivotal moments that will define this game.

Look for USC to create a run game with former SEC running-back and total dog, Marshawn Loyd and Stanford transfer Austin Jones. This will be key to keep the Notre Dame defense 'guessing on' where Caleb is putting the ball, making their job even harder.

USC's defense is #1 for a tackle for losses, they held Notre Dame last year to merely 90 yards (remember the narrative "USC rush defense sucks) if the weather does change and it rains, I think the advantage goes to USC. Why? Forcing the Irish to play a one-dimensional style offense will be devastating, especially with the issues the Irish had last week, Audric Estime was held to 20 yards against Louisville and the last 3 opponents held him to an average of 63 yards per game.

If USC maintains the run, this could get ugly by the 3rd quarter. USC has added great defensive line members during the off-season through the portal with the additions of 2023 National Champion from Georgia, Bear Alexander, 5 Star recruit & former Texas A&M player, Anthony Lucus, Purdue transfer Jake Sullivan, and Georgia State transfer Jamil Muhammad.

If you are assuming USC's defense is not talented, you are way, way off, they have the talent to be a Top 25 defense, the question is when will this defense turn it on? When the country is in total doubt of these boys, will this be the game Alex Grinch lets them loose?

Turnovers are everything, Hartman had 5 turnovers last game, if that happens again against USC, you are easily looking at 35 points on the scoreboard. Notre Dame needs to use the play-action pass strategy to move the ball down the field. USC 247 Sports Connor Morrissette reported Matre Dei dual athlete was working with the defensive coaches all week, in preparation to possibly play as a cornerback due to the magnitude of injuries in the cornerback club.

Key fact? USC is 7-2-1 against Notre Dame with a Heisman Trophy winner on the team.

Well here we go, the big factor in this game isn't the weather, it's not Drop Kick Murphy's only boring hit "Shipping Off to Boston" or Touchdown Jesus..... it's "Him" Caleb Williams. Caleb is the X-factor and is likely the greatest college football quarterback of all time. Give me the quarterback that doesn't turn over the ball five times.

USC- 45 Notre Dame- 20



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