After having the bye week to correct their issues through the first five games of the season and to get some key players healthy, USC will now prepare for their second slate of the schedule. The Trojans will have another tough task ahead of them as they take the road to face No. 9 Notre Dame in their annual rivalry game. The Fighting Irish currently coming off a 52-0 victory over Bowling Green last Saturday and currently still in play for a shot at making their second College Football playoff appearance. USC on the other hand will look to turn their fortunes around on the road as they’re currently 0-2 in road games. It’ll be a daunting task as they look to capture their first win on the road at a place they haven't won since 2011. The Trojans had the bye week to prepare for the Fighting Irish, however the question remains if they really did address the key problems that hurt them during the first five games of the season.
It’s fair to say that the USC offense has not delivered to the expectations many had before the season started. The Trojans have averaged only 29 points per game and only put up 14 points against Washington. With the talent USC has on the field that number is unacceptable. Questions has arose about the lack of adjustments made when teams drop 8 into coverage to defend Graham Harrell’s air raid scheme. Some of that could be due to the injuries at the quarterback position and it’s a valid excuse, however both Kedon Slovis and Matt Fink had the spring and summer to learn and work with the offense.
The passing game have been up and down through the first five games. USC thrived with two different quarterbacks against Stanford and Utah, however in their two losses the passing game took a huge step back once they saw 8 drop into coverage. Kedon Slovis and Matt Fink had solid outings when they took the field, however in their first road starts both struggled with making proper reads which led to interceptions. Harrell recently mentioned the one answer to the interception problem is making the right reads. Fink made passes into triple coverage and stared down his receivers when making his passes. The Huskies disguised their pre-snap look while keeping eight in coverage which created a struggle with making the key reads. One thing is certain and that’s the consistent play of USC wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. The senior has caught a touchdown pass in three consecutive games. He’s also second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards with 501. He’ll be a key target for Matt Fink or Kedon Slovis against a Notre Dame secondary that’s only allowing 183 yards through the air.
On the ground, the USC running backs have all been productive. Markese Stepp and Vavae Malepeai have given the Trojans a physical run game that allows them to gain the tough yards. Stephen Carr on the other hand has shown that he is indeed healthy by providing the speed threat that USC needs out of the backfield. Against Washington he was the leading rusher with 94 yards off 7 carries. They’ll have another key matchup on their hands against Notre Dame’s front seven. The Irish have allowed 147 rushing yards per game, however with Stepp and Malepeai, it could create an instructing matchup.
The defense has been a very interesting the first five games. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has simplified the defensive scheme to help the young players stepping in and to get more effective results. The strength of the defense so far has been the defensive line that has been outstanding the first half of the season. With senior Christian Rector and freshman Drake Jackson coming off the edge and Brandon Pili and Marlon Tuipulotu in the middle, the Trojans defensive line has been great stuffing the interior run game and generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The secondary has also played solid despite injuries to players like Talanoa Hufanga, Olaijah Griffin, and Isaac Taylor-Stuart. The defense has come up with key stops against Utah and given the Trojans a chance to win against Washington. There has been improvement moving forward. One issue that has haunted the Trojans has been giving up the big play and the inability of defending the outside runs such as misdirections and jet sweeps.
The Notre Dame offense is more of a balanced offense that has the ability to keep the defense on their heels. Ian Book has been pretty effective for the Irish throwing for over 1,200 yards with 13 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. One key stat is that he has been sacked 8 times this season. The USC defense has done a decent job keeping Washington quarterback Jacob Eason and Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley in check and creating pressure. The run game will be on full display as the Irish do rely on it to get their offense going. Tony Jones Jr. currently leads the team in rushing with 381 yards on the ground on 55 carries. He also averages 6.9 yards a carry. Notre Dame could expose the Trojans lack of outside containment on Saturday.
- Notre Dame currently leads the series 47-37-5. The only rivalry series USC trails.
- This will be the 90th all time meeting between the Trojans and Irish. The series started back in 1926.
- The winner receives the Jeweled Shillelagh
- Notre Dame has won the last two games over USC
- USC has last their last 3 meetings in South Bend. The last victory was in 2011.
- USC has not defeated a top ten ranked Notre Dame team since 2006.
- Notre Dame is currently an 11.5 point favorite at home.