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#11 USC Trojans vs. #13 Notre Fighting Irish: Keys for a Definitive Trojan Victory in South Bend

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With quite the task in front of them, USC needs to hone in on two items in their primetime showdown versus their longtime rival

NCAA Football: Utah at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

To a lot of Trojan faithful, this feels like the end.

A consistent flow of miscues and injuries have led to a disappointing Trojan season and has brought USC to South Bend where many think their playoff hopes will end.

Wait, disappointing?

No, I refuse to pack it in already. The eleventh-ranked Trojans are very much in the playoff mix and a road victory over 13th-ranked blood rival Notre Dame will for once give this team the respect they deserve.

USC has battled though poor playing calling—offensively and defensively as well as a bevy of key injuries to the offensive line and receiving unit that have left Darnold on an island. With a narrow victory over Utah last week, it was clear the bad times were continuing to role. However, this is the turning point in the season and this is how USC can get the win Saturday night.

“Coach Tee, RUN THE DANG BALL!”

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Southern California
Give this man more carries!
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The cries of Trojans fans everywhere have yet to be answered.

Since the first game against Western Michigan, it was clear Ronald Jones II was in line for a heavy work load. After the Stanford game, the rise of Stephen Carr brought another element to USC offensive and alongside Jones, the dynamic backfield was going to open things for the struggling Sam Darnold.

Yet here we are.

Even with the offensive line in shambles, the running game has proven to be the most effective part of the offensive. Down 21-7 at halftime against Utah last week—Jones received the majority of his 17 carries in the second half and the offense finally able to move the football to score.

Outside of Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, Jones have laid claim to being one of the very best runningbacks in all of college football and his runningmate Stephen Carr has proven to be one of the special true freshmen in this year’s class.

Trojan Running Attack

Player Carries Yards YPC TDs
Player Carries Yards YPC TDs
Ronald Jones III 102 640 6.6 8
Stephen Carr 52 309 5.9 2

In the Washington State game, the Trojans went away from the run in the second half, thus losing the time of possession battle and ultimately the game. Darnold is receiving too much pressure and even though his receiving options aren’t as limited as they once were, he’s not getting the time in the pocket to go through his reads.

If the Trojans have any chance of winning this game, they need to pound the football. Notre Dame has a tough defensive line and boasts one of the best past defenses in the nation. However, the safeties in the Notre Dame secondary sophomore Jalen Elliott and junior Nick Coleman are the weak links in this strong Fighting Irish defensive unit.

Success will be hard to come by early for the passing game, but frequent combination of power runs, sweeps and bootlegs can eventually lead to Tyler Vaughns or Deontay Burnett taking the top off the defense as the safeties creep into the box. If the Trojans fail to run, they’ll be in for a long day.

Monsters Come Alive Off the Edge

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Southern California
Going to need a lot of this versus Notre Dame
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Trojans have had a solid running back combination—Notre Dame arguably poses a better one with a trio of featuring quarterback Brandon Wimbush and running backs Josh Adams and Deon McIntosh.

Notre Dame Running Attack

Player Carries Yards YPC TDs
Player Carries Yards YPC TDs
Brandon Wimbush 86 776 9 5
Josh Adams 68 402 5.9 8
Deon McIntosh 40 230 5.8 4

The numbers speak for themselves, but much like Ronald Jones III, Josh Adams is widely regarded as one of the best running backs in the country. In Notre Dame’s read-option, both Adams and Winbush have punished defenses ripping off long runs and grinding out the defensive lines in winning the time of possession.

Not to be forgotten are All-Americans guard Quenton Nelson and tackle Mike McGlinchey who have led the way for this devastating running attack. To get past this mammoth challenge, the Trojans will need big games from their main disruptors Christian Rector and Uchenna Nwosu.

Rector and Nwosu have been the consistent been in the opponent’s backfield all season long and will again have to do with injuries to Porter Gustin and Josh Fatu keeping them out of the game.

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Notre Dame
Josh Adams is a bad man, but the Trojans have something for him.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Rector has been force, leading the Trojans in sacks with 6.5 and forced fumbles with two. His strength and leverage off the edge has devastated lineman as he just bulldozes them into the quarterback.

Nwosu has done his damage differently as his six quarterback pressures lead the team utilizing his quickness and speed off the edge. Fortunately, Rasheem Green is looking likely to play after popping up on the injury report earlier in the week. These three monsters need to wreak havoc in the backfield for the Trojans to thwart Notre Dame’s offensive advances.

Much Georgia did in Notre Dame’s only loss this season, the Trojans must attack the edge to stuff the read-option and force Wimbush to throw the football. This team as yet to stop the run all season, but there is absolutely no other way they can win if they fail to do so.