This year has not gone the way the Irish wanted as they enter Saturday’s matchup with USC with a 4-7 record. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, the Irish will finish with their worst record since 2007. I spoke with Patrick Sullivan from One Foot Down to find out what exactly has gone wrong for the Irish.
1) It seems like Brian Kelly is blaming everyone but himself, what are chances he comes back next year?
It's kind of up in the air right now. I, along with a sizable portion of the fan base, think Brian Kelly needs to be replaced as head coach. His team is an inexcusable 4-7 against probably the weakest schedule ND has played in his tenure, and he just hasn't shown the ability to get it done against the best of the best (e.g. last season, when ND lost to all three top teams it played).
Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick said earlier in the year that Kelly would be back for next season, but with how this year is going and the recent vacating of the 2012 and 2013 seasons due to academic misconduct (I don't blame Kelly for that, but it certainly won't help him), I think there's a pretty strong chance he's done at ND after this weekend. I'd give it about a 45% chance, though, because I don't have the utmost faith in the Notre Dame administration to make the right decision.
2) Notre Dame has blown a lot of 4th quarter leads this year, what has been the problem?
It's been a combination of things. The Irish offense has sputtered at inopportune times, the defense has failed to get various stops in crunch time, and the coaching staff has made plenty of terrible decisions that typically involve putting the game in the hands of said weak defense and expecting a stop to get the ball back. At this point, it seems like the team doesn't have any sort of killer instinct or anyone who sees themselves as the closer or go-to guy for big-time moments, and that has led to blown leads and plenty of losses.
3) Who should the Trojans look out for on defense?
Linebacker Nyles Morgan is a beast, plain and simple. He's fast and can cover while also leading ND in tackles and having the strength to bring anyone down. He, along with fellow linebackers James Onwualu and Greer Martini, are extremely crucial for ND in getting stops and will be critical again on Saturday when trying to corral Ronald Jones II.
A few other names to watch out for: DE Isaac Rochell, DT Jarron Jones, CB Cole Luke, and CB Julian Love.
4) Offensive player to watch?
My offensive player to watch would be DeShone Kizer, but that's too obvious. I'm going to say Equanimeous St. Brown, as he is ND's leading receiver, has excellent length and speed, a knack for big plays, and one of the best names in college football. If Adoree Jackson and co. can shut him down, it will go a long way to stopping Kizer through the air.
5) How can the Irish beat the Trojans?
I don't think they will do so, but IF they were going to beat USC, this ND team needs to run the ball well. That means the pitifully inconsistent offensive line getting a good push against the Trojan front and giving RB Josh Adams lanes to run. Adams has shown plenty of ability to break long runs if given any daylight, so if ND can be productive in that regard, it should open things up for Kizer to go over the top to St. Brown, Kevin Stepherson, etc. The ND defense will need to get a couple opportunistic turnovers, because I don't think they're good enough to shut down Sam Darnold and all the weapons he has.
6) Score prediction.
44-31 USC wins (and I think I'm being generous to ND with this prediction, so a bigger blowout would not be a surprise).