Notre Dame is rolling. USC is reeling. Against the Fighting Irish, USC seems to have little chance at securing its sixth win, and subsequent bowl eligibility. Notre Dame, on the other hand, knows that if they win this game, they can advance to the playoffs.
What can go wrong?
Well for starters, this undefeated Notre Dame team has won close games against Ball State (24-16), Vanderbilt (22-17), and Pittsburgh (19-14). This USC team is bad, but it can feasibly catch Notre Dame on a bad play and squeak out a one possession game late.
This won’t happen, but if it does, these match-ups will be why.
Te’von Coney v. Tyler Petite
Tyler Petite has been a massive disappointment this season. With a true freshman quarterback in JT Daniels, Petite’s job as a tight end should have been to provide easy short and intermediate completions. Petite, at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds is a big target who isn’t a shabby route runner.
Problem is, Petite has mediocre hands and no speed. When Helton does decide to have him run routes, he struggles to separate from coverage. That’s why he has only five receptions on the season for a measly 30 yards, an order of magnitude worse than his production last season (23 receptions for 307 yards). Petite contributes more as a run-blocker, but he hasn’t helped USC’s poor rushing attack either.
On the other hand, Te’von Coney has been a dominant linebacker for the Fighting Irish. The 6-foot-1, 240 pound Coney has rushed up draft boards. He is arguable neck and neck with LSU’s Devin White for the draft’s number one inside linebacker.
Coney has made his living by stopping the run. Petite has made his by blocking for the run. This Saturday, Coney might eat Petite’s lunch. If Coney can discombobulate USC’s running game, Daniels and co. certainly won’t be able to establish a passing game. If USC can run on Coney and co., USC’s offense might be able to score.
Miles Boykin v. Iman Marshall
Iman Marhall has played great for the majority of the season. He has shut down JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Larry Shenault, Tae Martin, and N’Keal Harry. For some reason, the senior cornerback had a wonky game against UCLA. He struggled against Theo Howard, who beat him for a 33 yard touchdown reception.
This week, he will look to bounce back against Miles Boykin. The big wideout is Ian Book’s favorite target, using his huge 6-foot-4 frame to amass 730 yards this season. As a big receiver, Boykin gets plenty of targets in the red zone, leading to his eight touchdowns on the season. For reference, that’s as much as Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown combined.
Marshall has succeeded against a physical receiver this season by limiting ASU’s Harry to one reception and eight yards. If Marshall can lock up Boykin, USC will be able to stack the box against Notre Dame’s dominant run game.
Sam Mustipher v. Brandon Pili
Brandon Pili has been one of the bright spots on USC’s defensive front. Sadly, the only play he made against UCLA was this viral play.
Sam Mustipher is Notre Dame’s senior center. At 6-foot-3 and 306 pounds, Mustipher has prototypical size and power. Notre Dame will try to run feature back Dexter Williams between the tackles.
In order to allow linebackers Cam Smith and John Houston to stop the running game, Pili must contain Mustopher and command double teams from Notre Dame’s dominant offensive line. Despite his antics at the Rose Bowl, Pili has the talent to made an impact up front. His play will be pivotal to stop Mustipher and Notre Dame’s consistently great offensive line.