Notre Dame Notes: Irish Clash With Trojans
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I can’t deny how much I respect Notre Dame’s ability to be annoyingly inconsistent. It’s been a well-documented theme in these articles of late, and they remained their ever-goofy selves last Saturday.
Entering last week with a 7-3 record and a 5-5 record ATS, the Irish were fresh off failing to cover against a lowly Navy team that rallied for 16 fourth-quarter points, losing 35-32 as 15.5-point underdogs. Playing against a slightly better Boston College team, 21 points felt like a tall order for the Irish given the previous week’s flub against Navy, along with a myriad of other blemishes on the season.
Naturally, they downed Boston College 44-0, holding a 37-0 lead heading into halftime.
Everything is good. Everything is fine.
This week, Notre Dame looks to continue its rivalry with USC. In a series the Irish lead with a record of 48-36-5, the Irish put their current four-game winning streak on the line against the Lincoln Riley-led Trojans, who are far from the team they’ve faced in recent years.
USC currently sits as a 5.5-point favorite and has the benefit of playing this one at home. But will that be enough for them to get their first win over the Irish since 2017? Let’s dive in.
Notre Dame continues run the hell out of the ball every chance they get. Their 281 rushing yards in last week’s win over Boston College were their second-most on the season, while their four rushing touchdowns set a new season-high. Notre Dame has run the ball 34 or more times in all but one game this season, with their lowest-volume day on the ground coming in Week 1 against Ohio State.
Even in that 35-32 win over Navy, despite being held to 66 yards on 34 carries -- good for an awful 1.9 YPC -- Notre Dame refused to try throwing the ball. Drew Pyne attempted just 21 passes in that game, completing 17 of his attempts -- his most completions since Week 5 against BYU. It’s a wildly boring brand of football, but come hell or high water the Irish will establish it.
Knowing this, I wouldn’t expect them to deviate from their game plan in this weekend’s game against USC, which is allowing 147.2 rushing yards per game and is tied for 26th in YPC allowed at 4.6.
As is the case with most of Riley’s teams, USC isn’t known for its defense. On the whole, they’re allowing 405 yards of total offense per game, and rank 125th in defensive success rate against the run (52.8%). If Notre Dame is to find a way to hang with and/or beat the Trojans, this could be it. In what would be a near strength vs. weakness matchup, Notre Dame’s offense ranks 22nd in rushing success rate (49.1%).
Defensively, the Irish are allowing the 17th-fewest yards per game (317.5) and the 40th-fewest rushing yards per game (130.7), but how much are we to invest in this as they prepare to face a USC offense that’s third in points per game (42.9) and second in yards per game (513.0)? I’m not sure. Again, we watched supposedly one of the better defenses in the nation allow 16 fourth-quarter points to Navy (32 overall!!!!), and at times prove to be slightly overrated.
The Irish will be permitted to stick to their offensive game plan as long as the defense allows it. If the Trojans get out to a lead of two possessions or more, Notre Dame may have to break from their run-heavy approach whether they like it or not.
One of the more exciting teams in the nation being led by one of the more exciting quarterbacks in the nation, the Trojans are 10-1 on the season, 6-0 at home and 7-4 ATS. Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma to form a powerhouse at USC, and are already living up to expectations in year one.
As previously mentioned, the Trojans are third in points per game and second in yards per game. Williams, who is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, has thrown for 3480-33-3 on the season and has an additional 316 rushing yards for seven touchdowns.
In his first year at USC, Williams has connected on a number of highlight reel throws, with fellow transfer wide receivers Jordan Addison (51-765-8) and Mario Williams (27-508-4) serving as two of his favorite targets. Per PFF, Williams ranks fifth in the nation in total passing yards, and is ninth among qualified passers with a 9.2 YPA. His 22 big-time throws per PFF also place him inside the top 15, as Williams has proven to be one of the premiere deep ball passers in the nation. With 69 deep balls through his first 11 games, he’s completed 42% of those attempts for 1,090 yards and 12 of his 33 touchdowns.
In addition to USC’s high-flying aerial assault, the Trojans have also found plenty of success on the ground. Notre Dame’s 22nd-ranked rushing success rate is impressive, but it pales in comparison to USC, whose success on the ground is good for third-best in the nation at 55.5%.
Of course, they’ll need to rely more on backups Austin Jones and Raleek Brown moving forward after losing lead rusher Travis Dye (145-884-9) to a season-ending leg injury. In last week’s game without Dye, it was Jones who took over the lead role, rushing 21 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 3.14 YCO/ATT. Jones had plenty of chunk plays in the win over UCLA, and has been decent at bouncing off of contact, ranking 38th in the nation in YCO/ATT (3.64) among qualified backs.
If the Trojans’ defense can limit a mostly one-dimensional Notre Dame offense, Williams and his elite cast of characters have a chance to cause problems for the Irish all day long.
Irish Pick ‘Em Predictor
Notre Dame Pass Completions
Drew Pyne and the Irish don’t throw. We’ve been going on this for 13 weeks, and for 13 weeks it’s been largely true. The sophomore quarterback has completed 17 or more passes in four of 10 games this season and has only done so once in the last six weeks. If you picked the 0-16 number every week over that span, you’d look like a predictor app god. For this reason, I’ll ride one of the strongest trends in college football, although the idea of the Irish trailing big in this one could make it a risky proposition. However, Pyne has also proven to be far from accurate, completing just 54.7% of his passes over the last six weeks. It wouldn’t be insane to think he could throw 30 times and barely complete half of those attempts.
Pick: 0-16 completions
Notre Dame Rushing Yards
The Irish are averaging 191.2 rushing yards per game. Even if they lose this one, they could find plenty of room to run on a USC team that has not been good against the run. The Notre Dame rushing yards prop on the predictor has been wildly profitable this season. Correlating nicely with the 0-16 completion prop, the 135+ has been a walk in the park, hitting in eight of the Irish’s 11 games this season. Their love for the run alone will have a chance to get them over that number again this weekend.
Pick: 135+ rushing yards
The Trojans have business to handle on Saturday. Outside of breaking a four-game losing streak to the Irish, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee ranked USC as the No. 6 team -- putting them just outside of the national championship conversation. Fortunately for the Trojans, they can strengthen their argument this weekend with a win over an 8-3 Notre Dame team that’s currently ranked 15th by the committee.
Currently sitting as 5.5-point favorites, the Trojans are a very strong 7-4 ATS and are 4-2 ATS at home. Currently 6-0 at The Coliseum, USC is beating their road opponents by an average of 26.2 points per game with their closest game being a six-point win over Cal. Despite the Irish’s massive win over Boston College this week, I think the better team wins out here. With so much on the line, I like the Trojans to make a statement win as they snap a four-game skid to the Irish while convincing the selection committee to put them in the CFB playoffs as the fourth and final team in.
Pick: USC -5.5
2022 Record: 30-43-1