• John Skinner

2017 Notre Dame Preview

Updated: Aug 27, 2018

A tale of two halves against Utah shows SC’s Jekyll and Hyde nature- The first half of the Utah game was extremely concerning and this type of play has happened far too much this season for SC to truly be considered a true playoff contender.  The lack of focus combined with three turnovers an absurd amount of miss-tackles felt like one was in a time machine back to the end of the Paul Hackett era.

However, the Trojans picked things up in a major way in the second half behind one of Sam Darnold’s better performances of the season and SC was able to overcome the 21-7 first half deficit.  It was vintage Sam with the SC going 7/10 on third and fourth down in the second half and Sam throwing for 358 yards/3 TD’s and no interception.  Darnold lead all of SC’s second half scoring drives from inside the 15-yard line. The defense should also be applauded for making some key halftime adjustments and it was another stellar performance out of linebackers/captains Cameron Smith (16 tackles) and Uchenna Nwusu.  The Trojans held stud Utah wideout Darren Carrington II to just 9 yards receiving on just 2 receptions. It must be noted that SC caught a big break in playing Utah without their starting quarterback Tyler Huntley who is a definite improvement over Troy Williams.

SC showed the potential of what they can/should be in the second half, but from an overall perspective, they have only graded well in eight of the twenty-eight quarters played this season.  This trend has to reverse starting this week to avoid a disappointing season.

Tyler Vaughns is the real deal- Redshirt freshman receiver Tyler Vaughns has emerged to become one of Sam Darnold’s favorite receivers, especially in clutch situations.  He made two tremendous fourth down grabs in critical moments against Utah and Washington State.  He has developed a strong rapport with Darnold and is beginning to understand how Darnold sees the field when the pocket breaks down.  His maturation will be a key factor if SC starts to get rolling offensively.  Darnold now has two reliable outside receivers in Burnett and Vaughns and with the tight end being utilized more, we expect to see more of the old Sam Darnold.

Geller’s take- Tight end will be utilized explosively- With Daniel Imatorbhebhe coming back from injury and true freshman Josh Falo (two TD catches in the last two games) showing similar tremendous athleticism to that of Imatorbhebhe, Darnold has explosive options that he did not have earlier in the year. Plus, junior Tyler Petite has developed into an extremely reliable possession receiver, including two touchdown grabs last week.  Despite only playing a handful of plays against Utah, Imatorbhebhe helped spring two big Ronald Jones runs at critical moments in the second half and he was also used successfully as a decoy on some big pass completions.  His return to the line-up along with the development of Petite and Falo cannot be understated.  The Trojans will be one of the few teams nationally that can have multiple vertical threats out of a double tight-end set. *Austin Geller is a senior at St Monica High School and interned for USCfootball.com.

Why it could be a long evening in South Bend- Notre Dame is rested after coming off a bye and have had two weeks to prepare for what is a playoff-elimination type game for both teams.  Irish head coach Brian Kelly has a career record of 19-2 and 8-1 at Notre Dame when coming off a bye.  On the flip side, SC is coming off a very physical game with one of the Pac-12’s most physical teams in Utah and have lost three defensive lineman in ten days while also not having defensive star Porter Gustin and Rasheem Green only able to play at around 70% due to a high ankle sprain.  The Irish boast a physical ground-based offense, which is in the national Top 25 in rushing offense, scoring offense and total offense. Notre Dame is led by dual threat QB Brandon Wimbush who is who is just an adequate passer completing 52.3% of his passes but he’s a huge run threat with 402 yards rushing and eight TD’s.  RB Josh Adams is seventh nationally in rushing (129.3) and has 2,544 career rushing yards. Notre Dame’s defense is allowing just 16.8 points per game with a strong defensive line and linebacking unit.

How the Trojans pull out a victory-

*Clancy comes up with a great defensive scheme- Though the coaching staff is very concerned with the defensive line depth, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and crew have put together a new scheme they feel will be successful in slowing down Notre Dame's rushing attack.  More than likely they are going to deploy an extra defensive back in the box (Inman Marshall is strong against the run and Yikil Ross had success in second half against Utah in a similar role) while leaving the corners to fight for themselves.  Trojans will need to force Notre dame into obvious passing situations and keep the time of possession battle equal.  The weakness of this Irish team is they convert just 39.6% of their third down conversions and Winbush is not going to win games with his arm.  When #3 Georgia defeated Notre Dame earlier this year, they held Notre Dame to just 55 yards rushing.

Convert touchdowns in the red zone- Against Utah, SC showed some nice improvement in the red zone and will need to continue that trend to pull out a victory. Notre Dame has been strong all year in the red-zone with a 70% conversion rate which ranks 18th nationally.

Heisman-like performance from Darnold- Sam Darnold will need to play his most complete game of the season for SC to escape South Bend with a victory.  When he is playing confidently, the team will follow and it will adversely impact the psyche of Notre Dame.  *Darnold had one of his best practice weeks of the year…

Play a clean/disciplined game- SC must take care of the ball and show improvement with tackling. It will be extremely difficult to overcome a multiple turnover game.   Against both Utah and Washington State, the Trojans really struggled with initial contact tackling.  Utah running back Zach Moss had close to 100 yards of rushing after contact last week and Notre Dame’s Josh Adams is more of an elite back.

Here is Tom Haire’s in-depth analysis of the SC-ND match-up courtesy of USCfootball.com.

Defensive lineman Brandon Pili will be a 1st round pick in a few years—but asking him to start against Notre Dame is a tall order- #91, true freshman Brandon Pili, a 6’4, 320 pound defensive lineman out of Alaska is easy to spot when he comes in the game.  He literally looks like a human refrigerator when rumbling on the field and despite that size, he can supposedly do a handstand and reverse dunk a basketball.  Pro scouts loved bringing his name up in fall camp and it is a subject we touched on in this blog early in the season.  You could really see his athleticism in a handful of snaps against Utah (played 17 snaps).

Though his potential is enormous, Pili is from Alaska and didn’t see nearly the competition or sophistication he is experiencing now.  The coaches preferred to redshirt him but with the amount of unfortunate injuries along the defensive line, he has been forced into action this season.  Pili is good enough that he will give you some “wow” moments against the Irish, however, his lack of experience and overall conditioning, while going up against one of the best offensive lines SC will play all year, will be frustrating for Trojan fans.

Quick-Hitters-

*True freshman sensation running back Stephen Carr, will continue to be out with a foot injury but they hope to have him back for ASU…Look for redshirt freshman Vivae Malepeai’s production to continue to increase with Carr out.  He rushed for 42 yards on just 4 carries against the Utes.

*Tackle Chuma Edoga will definitely play against Notre Dame after unexpectedly sitting out the Utah game.  We have repeatedly talked about Edoga’s significance to the offense and his presence should be positively felt in South Bend.  Pro Football Forecast grades Chuma as one of the best performing tackles in college football this season.

*The trio of Deontay Burnett, Tyler Vaughns and Steven Mitchells combined for 20 catches…Also, Trevon Sidney has looked really good in practice lately.

*Sophomore defensive lineman Christian Rector leads the Pac-12 in sacks and recovered fumbles.

*SC has been tied or trailed in five of seven fourth quarters this season.

*The loss of Defensive lineman Josh Fatu to concussion protocol after being in a car accident is a significant loss.  Fatu has recorded 27 tackles and five sacks on the season. SC has lost three defensive lineman in ten days..Fatu, Marlon Tuipulotu (back surgery) and Kenny Bigelow (retired). . .SC is just 65th nationally against the run.

Betting Guide- This is the first underdog line for SC since Washington was favored by nine last year and SC not only covered, but pulled off the upset in Seattle.  The Trojans have won 11 of the past 15 meetings with the Irish, but all 4 losses have been since 2010.  SC has lost the past two in South Bend.  Both teams claim a victory over a ranked squad with SC beating Stanford and ND defeating Michigan State. SC is just 1-6 against the spread while ND is 5-1.  The over/under is 64.5 and it has gone over in six of Notre Dame’s last eight games.

Basketball note- SC hoops is ranked pre-season #11 in the pre-season coaches’ poll.  . .Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has already attended two USC basketball practices due to the US Attorney’s Office investigation of USC assistant coach Tony Bland. . .

Carol Skinner Memorial tid-bit- *According to the Sagarin schedule strength rankings, no one in the top 25 has played a tougher schedule than SC.  The Trojans have faced five teams with winning records, including four teams ranking in the top 40 of S&P+ rankings.