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Preview: Irish face tall task in USC

The Irish enter Saturday’s game at the Coliseum as an 18.5 point underdog. This plus the recent news of the NCAA’s ruling* that Notre Dame must vacate all wins from the 2012 and 2013 seasons made for a somber Thanksgiving weekend for Irish fans.

(*Notre Dame will appeal this ruling)

Alright! Positive vibes. This is still a rivalry game, and we can still end the Trojans’ hopes of earning a potential bid to one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. Well, maybe.

This season has felt like a bad dream where all sparks of hope have been extinguished by mental mistakes, bad breaks, and poor play. Alas, we still have a game to play Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles.

Notre Dame’s Offense

Deshone Kizer and the Notre Dame offense came out firing on all cylinders in the first half against Virginia Tech last week. Then, they came out of the locker room and looked like a completely different team in the second half, only scoring 7 points and blowing a 10 point lead. Simply put, Bud Foster and the Hokies made the necessary adjustments at halftime, and the Irish offense did not anticipate these changes. This has been a common theme for the Irish this year (on both sides of ball). It will have to be corrected for them to have a chance to upset the Trojans this Saturday.

You’ll find no shortage of athletes on USC’s defense. None more impressive than Adoree Jackson, the Trojans’ shut down corner. Expect him to be matched up against Equinimeous St. Brown for the majority of the game. The Trojans like to play a good amount of their defensive snaps with nickel personnel (5 defensive backs). This presents an opportunity for Durham Smythe and Nic Weishar to have some favorable match ups in the passing game.

I think the key for Notre Dame’s offense will be time of possession. They need control the clock and allow their defense to rest between series.

Notre Dame’s Defense

Sam Darnold can sling it. Wait, who?

The true freshman quarterback from San Clemente, CA has been a delightful surprise for Trojan fans since he took over the starting job in week 4. Since then, the team is 7-1 (winning their last 7 games) and averaging just over 36 points a game. Darnold has a QBR of 87.5 over that stretch and has thrown for 24 touchdowns.

The Notre Dame secondary will have their hands full trying to slow down the Trojan offense that features one of the top receivers in college football, Juju Smith-Schuster. Most likely, Cole Luke will be the one tasked with covering Smith-Schuster for the majority of the game. However, the Irish will need to give Luke safety help to allow him to be aggressive in coverage and to limit big plays.

The Trojans’ will be able to move the ball against a very average Notre Dame defense. The keys here will be disguising coverages to confuse Darnold. If they can keep him guessing, they should be able to come with key stops and (hopefully) force a couple turnovers.