It still sounds odd to put Notre Dame in a conference, but that is exactly where they are for the strange 2020 season. Notre Dame will venture out of the ACC this Saturday to take on South Florida in South Bend. The Fighting Irish opened the season against Duke last week and some questions were answered while others remain. Duke hung around with the Irish, keeping the score much closer than it was a year ago. Notre Dame ended up beating the Blue Devils 27-13, but it wasn’t without its struggles.
Sophomore running back, Kyren Williams, had a good day. Whereas, veteran quarterback Ian Book struggled a little bit more than some fans would have liked. Williams rushed for 112 yards on 19 carries and rushed for two scores. It’s not like Book had a bad day, the fifth-year senior threw for 263 yards and one touchdown, but also had an interception. Book will look to improve on that this week, while Williams tries to keep his momentum going in the right direction.
Notre Dame vs. South Florida
Notre Dame goes out of conference against South Florida this week for their only non-ACC opponent of the season. South Florida is also coming off of a win. However, it was against FCS opponent The Citadel and the Bulls’ offense struggled. If they have any hope against the Irish this week, they will need to improve on their performance a week ago. The Notre Dame defense was one of the best in college football last season and as we discussed last week, this Irish defense doesn’t skip a beat. It’s not the defense anyone has questions about against a building South Florida offense. Questions still remain though for the Notre Dame offense. Regardless, the advantage this week trends toward the Irish.
Rushing Offense Preview
There is a size advantage for Notre Dame that the Bulls will wish they had this weekend. The offensive line for the Irish average almost 40 more pounds than the defensive line for South Florida. Further, the run defense for South Florida allowed The Citadel to rush for 200 yards. It should be noted that The Citadel utilizes a triple option, but with the big offensive line for Notre Dame, the Irish should have an advantage here. Williams rushed for 112 yards alone last week against a defensive line for the Blue Devils that is much bigger than that of the Bulls. This advantage should allow Williams to continue to improve as the featured back. Notre Dame will have to account for is linebacker Dwayne Boyles. Boyles accounted for 12.5 tackles for loss last season and three sacks.
The Air Attack
The passing game for Notre Dame seems to be what everyone wants to talk about this week. Tommy Rees had his first outing as Offensive Coordinator and there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. South Florida has a strong secondary. The Bulls had 12 interceptions in 2019 and return four starters in that group. The most notable returner being KJ Sails. Alone, Sails accounted for three out of the 12 interceptions. Further, the senior had six passes defended on a pass defense that wasn’t utilized a whole lot due to how bad the rush defense for the Bulls actually was.
The receivers will need to perform much better this week to keep a balanced attack on offense. Returning against South Florida is junior wide receiver Braden Lenzy. Lenzy missed the season opener with an apparent hamstring injury. Head Coach Brian Kelly stated that Lenzy “wasn’t healthy” last week and that he should be 100% for Saturday. The speed of Lenzy was missed against Duke and Book will be happy to have him back this week against a talented South Florida secondary. In addition to just having Lenzy back, which is good news in itself, this also allows Javon McKinley to return to the boundary. McKinley is productive as a blocker and has the ability to grab 50/50 balls, both of which will come in handy this weekend.
With more pieces coming together for Rees and Book, it should be a much better outing for the Irish passing game on Saturday. Further, look for Williams to improve on his impressive outing in the season opener.
Who: Notre Dame vs. South Florida
Where: South Bend, IN
TV: USA Network @ 2:30 pm ET