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Fighting Irish Seek a Return to Form Against the USC Trojans

Fighting Irish vs USC Trojans

Following a tough road loss to Louisville, No. 21 Notre Dame (5-2) seeks a return to its winning ways on Saturday. The Irish host the No. 10 USC Trojans in yet another primetime matchup. Notre Dame renews its storied rivalry against the Trojans as a hungry team eager to move past its second loss of the season. Overall, Notre Dame leads the immensely popular series with a record of 50-38-5.

Fighting Irish vs USC Trojans

USC Trojans Feature a High-Powered Offense

Led by Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, the Trojans tote an unblemished 6-0 record into South Bend. While they are undefeated on the season, it hasn’t been easy for USC. After trailing 17-0 in the second quarter, the Trojans needed three overtimes to defeat Arizona 43-41 in a hard-fought thriller last week at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Williams finished last week’s contest 14 of 25 for 205 yards and a touchdown. Marshawn Lloyd led the ground game, rushing for 86 yards (5.7 yards per carry) on 15 carries. For the game, USC ran 58 plays and totaled 351 yards. On the other side of the ball, however, the USC defense has struggled this year. The unit gave up 203 rushing yards on 42 carries, averaging out to 4.8 yards per run allowed against Arizona. USC gave up 25 pass completions for a total of 303 yards and a completion percentage of 71.4 percent. For the season, USC gives up an average of 421 total yards per game, placing them 112th out of 133 FBS teams in terms of defensive performance.

A leading Heisman Trophy candidate again this season, Williams enjoyed a sensational performance against Notre Dame last year. In a 38-27 home win for USC, Williams completed 18 of 22 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown and rushed for three scores. The USC victory spoiled Irish head coach Marcus Freeman’s first trophy game for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

Weather Could Play a Role

Preparing for potential inclement weather on Saturday night, USC coaches resorted to unconventional measures to ready the Trojans. At practice this week, coaches sprayed players and footballs with water to simulate a rainy environment. There is a projected 50-percent chance of rain at kickoff around 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday night in South Bend with temperatures expected to be in the 50s. It would be the first rain game of the season for the Trojans.

A Turnaround Needed for Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish enter the matchup with USC off a tough 33-20 loss to Louisville. Quarterback Sam Hartman finished a less-than-stellar outing a week ago with 254 yards, completing 22 of 38 pass attempts. He also had two touchdowns and three interceptions. Notre Dame’s ground game never got on track against the Cardinals. Audric Estime was held to just 20 yards on 10 carries.

Notre Dame’s physical defense has stood out this season and will need another big-time performance to shut down USC. The Trojans average 51.8 points per game. They average 168.2 yards rushing and have racked up 3,126 total yards over the course of the season. USC has scored 23 touchdowns through the air and 17 on the ground. The Irish are giving up just 15.9 points per game, which ranks them 15th in the nation. They have allowed just four touchdowns through the air and 146.6 yards per game, which places the unit third in the country. Notre Dame’s defense also boasts six interceptions so far this season.

Verdict in the Battle of the Jeweled Shillelagh

With their College Football Playoff hopes all but silenced, the Irish would like nothing more than to put a dent in USC’s CFP aspirations. At first glance, the intriguing matchup appears to favor Lincoln Riley‘s Trojans and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. But Notre Dame has faced a tougher schedule, and the Irish’s offense, led by Hartman and Estime, should be able to exploit a USC defensive unit that hasn’t played at a high level this year.

Granted the Irish have struggled of late, but perhaps, USC is the answer to key a much-needed turnaround. The Irish offense averaged 46 points per game through the first four games but has been held to an average of 19 points over the last three games—all against top-ranked opponents. Williams might be one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but Hartman is an experienced veteran with a strong arm. Combined with a physical defense that has the capability to frustrate the Trojans, Notre Dame will have every opportunity to right the ship against the USC Trojans rain or shine, and bring the Jeweled Shillelagh back to South Bend.

Fighting Irish vs USC Trojans
Photo Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports


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