Well, gameday has finally arrived. And it’s a big one.
This matchup will probably go down as one of the most defining games of the season, in either a good or bad way. I still can’t get a good read on this game, so I asked Pat Rick from One Foot Down to give us the Notre Dame perspective. He had some great things to say.
Conquest Chronicles: How big is it for the Notre Dame offense to get QB Brandon Wimbush back after his foot injury? What dimensions does he bring to this offense?
One Foot Down: It's pretty big. Backup QB Ian Book performed valiantly in Wimbush's stead (passing AND running), and Wimbush hasn't exactly dazzled throwing the ball this season (783 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT, 51.9% completion), but Wimbush is undeniably one of the leaders of the offense, and what he can do with his legs is absolutely lethal.
Wimbush, in the 5 games he's played in, has accumulated 402 yards rushing on 5.9 yards per carry, and has been at his deadliest in the red zone, scoring 8 rushing touchdowns. Combine his legs with RB Josh Adams and with the power and athleticism of the Irish offensive line, and you have a group that can absolutely demolish opponents in offensive coordinator Chip Long's pass-run option offense. Only Georgia's defense (#3 in the country in total defense) has been able to contain the Irish this season.
So, getting Wimbush's play-making ability in the backfield once again -- and also getting his big arm back (which, although inconsistent, is absolutely capable of making any throw you could want him to make) -- is huge for Notre Dame heading into the rough half of the schedule, starting with #11 USC this weekend.
CC: Captain and senior LB Greer Martini injured his knee this week in practice? What is his status? Will this have a significant impact on him?
OFD: Brian Kelly officially announced today (at the time Wednesday) that Martini had a procedure done on his meniscus, and so he is out for the game. He might be back next week for the game against NC State.
So yes, this will impact Martini (obviously), but will also impact the team. Te'von Coney (#2 tackler on the team - he already plays a lot, but has been splitting time with Martini at the "Buck" linebacker spot) will start in Martini's place, and sophomore Jamir Jones will likely have to see some action as well, as the Irish lose their #3 tackler on the season.
Martini is reliable and great in run support, so this could definitely be big, especially if Ronald Jones is able to get out into space often. The rest of the linebackers will really need to be sharp to make up for Martini's absence.
CC: Who are two other impact players USC fans should keep an eye out for?
OFD: On offense, it's absolutely Josh Adams. The junior running back ranks 10th in the country in rushing yards (776) and 5th in yards per carry (9.0). Furthermore, he's not just a workhorse back -- he's got serious home run capability, as he's already had 9 runs of over 30 yards this season, with 5 of those being more than 60 yards. He's a tall-ish back who doesn't appear to have a lot of speed at first, but if he gets out into the open field, he hits a second gear that will make it hard for almost anyone to catch him.
Defensively, it's really been a team effort on an incredibly sound squad under defensive coordinator Mike Elko. I could point to the 6'6", 306-pound DT in the middle of the d-line, Jerry Tillery, who leads the team in sacks and QB hurries, or I could talk about CBs Julian Love and Shaun Crawford, who have both been lock-down guys and big playmakers -- especially Crawford, who's a little guy at 5'9" but who has 2 INT, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, 3 passes broken up, and 14 tackles on the year.
But, I'm going to pick Drue Tranquill, who's a senior safety-linebacker hybrid at the "Rover" position. Tranquill is the heart and soul of the defense, is constantly flying around the field, and is usually involved in any important play the Irish defense makes. Keep an eye out for him, as he has a penchant for coming up big in big games, and will likely be the guy who will be the difference between a short Ronald Jones run and a Ronald Jones touchdown on at least a few plays.
CC: How do you see the Trojans defensive front lining up against the Irish offensive line? Who wins?
OFD: I haven't gotten to see too much of the USC defensive line this year, but I was able to catch parts of the Trojans' games against Texas, Wazzu, and Utah, so I know they are an athletic, relentless bunch. However, I think the ND line holds up very well against what I believe is a very thin USC defensive front seven, considering guys like Josh Fatu and Porter Gustin will not be available, and Rasheem Green will clearly not be fully healthy, if he sees the field at all with his sprained ankle.
With Pre- and Mid-season All-Americans in LG Quenton Nelson and LT Mike McGlinchey, I expect the Irish to run left often, and for those two to do what they do best and create spacious running lanes for Adams, Wimbush, and anyone else in the Irish backfield. USC has a lot of athletes in their linebacking corps and secondary, so maybe Adams and co. don't break off as many big runs as we've become accustomed to, but I expect the small-chunk runs of 4, 5, 6, 7 yards to be consistently available. I think the Notre Dame offensive line lives up to its billing as an elite o-line and wins this battle.
CC: Your favorite USCvsND moment?
OFD: I'm only 26 years old, so most of my ND-USC memories are decidedly negative, considering 2002-2009, 2011, 2014, and 2016.
With that said, I have a few highlights that I find myself constantly revisiting:
- Tom Zbikowski's punt return in 2005: Absolutely electric, and made all of us Irish fans truly believe we were going to topple what was being called, at the time, the greatest college football team of all-time
- 2012 season finale at the Coliseum: It was my senior year at ND, I was there, and we clinched a trip to the BCS title game with another classic goal line stand from Te'o, Tuitt, Nix, and co. against our hated rivals from LA. What more is there to say? It was pure bliss
- 2015 at ND: Specifically, when Will Fuller absolutely scorched Adoree Jackson on the Irish's first offensive play for a 75-yard touchdown...absolutely beautiful and such a statement from DeShone Kizer and Fuller
The winner here is definitely the 2012 game for me, since I was there, a senior, it sent us to the championship, etc. But Zibby's return is close, and probably would have won if ND had pulled off that upset.
CC: Your prediction for the game.
OFD: Anyone who knows me knows how down on Brian Kelly's program I've been and how pessimistic and jaded I became about the team during the 4-8 year in 2016.
With that said, I've been drinking the Kool-Aid all year, and despite a back-loaded schedule that will tell us a lot more about this team than the first half did, I've become supremely confident that Notre Dame will come out and legitimately kick USC's ass on Saturday night. USC has struggled against numerous opponents that I would categorize as a level below ND, and the Irish are coming off a bye and featuring a reliable defense, incredible running attack, and much more depth than USC has.
Notre Dame 45, USC 27.
Special thanks to Pat Rick and all the guys at One Foot Down. You can see the other half of this Q&A right here. Check out their website as they have several articles previewing the USC Trojans vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish tonight.