Opponent Preview: USC Offense


The final week of the regular season is upon us, and the final task for our glorious Fighting Irish will take place in Southern California against the pesky Trojans Saturday.

Without a doubt one of the greatest rivalries in college football, Notre Dame (7-4) and USC (7-4) will face off for the 85th time. The Irish have won the last two games against the Trojans, but with Notre Dame riding a three game losing streak, they could lose their first in three years against them Saturday. Southern California runs a pro offense that excels at balancing their efforts in the passing and rushing attack. Led by red shirt junior Cody Kessler, the Trojans are going to be one of the toughest offenses that the Irish will have had to contain this season.

Offensive line

This offensive line is relatively young starting three freshmen, a sophomore and junior center Max Tuerk, captain of the line. With 20 starts in his career, Tuerk’s experience has been invaluable to the younger linemen who have helped push the offense to become the 20th best passing squad along with being a factor in producing a 1,000-yard plus rusher on the team. Everyone on the line is at least 6’3″, which means the defensive line is going to be dealing with a big, powerful line. However, despite their size and strength, the offensive line is prone to giving up multiple sacks a game conceiving 28 all year. The Irish front seven will have to take advantage of the starting freshmen’s inexperience to penetrate Kessler’s pocket often along with stopping the run.

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Running back

It won’t be difficult for Notre Dame to pinpoint who the workhorse in the Trojans backfield is. Red shirt junior Javorius Allen has compiled 1,244 yards on 231 carries and 10 total touchdowns. As the featured back, Allen is terrorizing defenses picking up well over five yards a carry, and although his history against Notre Dame is minuscule, he has the potential to excel Saturday. Notre Dame has given up 100-yard rushers in five of the last six games, so run defense should have been emphasized all week in practice for the Irish. It should also be noted that Allen can catch the ball well out of the backfield. He has 39 catches, which is third on the team, for 425 yards and a score.

Wide Receivers

Nelson Agholor. If Notre Dame loses Saturday, it’ll be because this guy shredded the Irish’s secondary. Following the footsteps of former Trojan star wide receiver Marqise Lee, Agholor has dominated corners all year long. Agholor caught 85 passes for 1,103 yards and 10 touchdowns up to this point. He has almost double the number of receptions and yards than the next leading receiver, freshman receiver JuJu Smith, and he has double the number of receiving touchdowns Smith has. It’s obvious who Kessler’s favorite weapon is. What’s the key here? Stop Agholor. Don’t let him beat you and force Kessler to go throw the ball to other receivers.

Quarterback, Cody Kessler

Although Kessler lacks the athletic ability Everett Golson has, Kessler is one of the best quarterbacks in terms of taking care of the football. Throwing for 3,133 yards, Kessler has tossed 30 touchdowns to just four interceptions. When the ball isn’t being turned over, the time of possession favors the team protecting the football, which in turn gives them more time to score. It’s a really simple concept that Notre Dame hasn’t been able to get down in the second half of the season. Winning the game on the road is going to fall on whether or not the Irish defense can force Kessler to make poor decisions and hopefully throw an interception or two. Kessler was rattled last season in Notre Dame Stadium throwing for just over 200 yards along with completing just 58% of his passes. If Notre Dame can make Kessler reproduce those numbers Saturday, there’s no doubt they can pull out the victory at USC.

I know that I’ve played out the key points in winning games, but it’s really simple. Notre Dame just hasn’t been able to stop the opposing key players from making an impact. This week, they have to stop Agholor, Allen and Kessler. There’s no other way of winning this contest. Hopefully they can finally put it all together and finish the regular season with a respectable 8-4 record.