Notre Dame Football: Irish Look to Cap Perfect Season Against USC

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: General view of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the game between the USC Trojans and the Utah Utes on October 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: General view of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the game between the USC Trojans and the Utah Utes on October 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

In the final regular season test of the year, the Notre Dame football team travels to Los Angeles to face their biggest rival.

Essential Information:
Opponent: USC Trojans (5-6)
Last week: Lost to UCLA, 34-27
Date: November 24, 2018
Location: Los Angeles, California (LA Coliseum)
Forecast: Mid-60’s. Clear.
Time/Channel: 8:00pm on ABC

Top Storyline: Lots on the Line

To say this game is important would be an understatement — but it’s a tale of two entirely different reasons.

For the Trojans, they look to attain bowl eligibility. I’m not talking about the Rose Bowl or Fiesta Bowl, most likely rather the Las Vegas Bowl. Undoubtedly a massive step down from where USC figured in as the preseason AP number 15 team. The team has just been decimated by injury and inexperience.

It hasn’t been ALL bad. They beat Colorado when beating Colorado mattered, which may not be impressive now, but the Buffs were 5-0 at the time. USC’s launched the fall Colorado has experienced that ultimately lead the Buffs to firing their coach.

They also handed Washington State their only loss of the year, a three point home victory that could very well keep Washington State — as well as the entire Pac-12 Conference — out of the College Football Playoff.

Speaking of the Playoff, that’s where the importance comes in for the Fighting Irish. It’s simple: win and you’re in.

At 11-0 and number 3 in the current poll, Notre Dame is in solid position to have a shot at the National Championship. There’s also the chance, albeit slim, that Notre Dame could enter the Playoff even higher than number 3.

Not to mention, a win in California, and by association, a Playoff berth, could be a recruiting boost.

Key Notre Dame offensive player: Running Back Dexter Williams:

Let’s start with a bold prediction: Dexter Williams will reach 1,000 yards on the season tonight.

It may seem crazy, but at only 156 yards away, but he’s rushed for more that three times in 7 games. He’s done it against the 35th, 47th and 107th ranked rush defenses. USC is currently 69th.

USC’s defense has its share of injuries. Linebacker Porter Gustin and safety Talanoa Hufanga are both out, and safety Marvell Tell III is most likely a game-time decision due to an ankle injury. Those are three of the most important pieces on the USC defense, all injured.

The Notre Dame offensive line could open up some big holes for Williams, and from there, Williams should have himself a big day.

Key USC offensive player: Wide Receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Michael Pittman Jr:

It may be cheating to pick two, but I find it difficult to mention one without the other.

If the St. Brown name sounds familiar to you, it should. Amon-Ra’s older brother, Equanimeous, spent the previous three seasons with Notre Dame.

The younger St. Brown is just a freshman, but he was highly recruited and is showing why this season. St. Brown has 50 catches for 656 yards and three touchdowns.

He’s plenty capable of having a big game, but his explosive potential is only part of the reason St. Brown is key.

St. Brown’s skill and athleticism has potential to take eyes away from Michael Pittman, who although he has 17 catches less, is actually tied with Amon-Ra in receiving yards. Pittman is a big time deep threat who’s averaging almost 20 yards per catch and has six touchdown catches.

Both are fast and physical receivers. If the USC quarterback JT Daniels gets going, it could be a good day for the receiving corps. And don’t forget about Tyler Vaughns, either.

Key defensive Notre Dame player: Cornerback Julian Love:

If USC receivers are key, then the Irish secondary needs to be strong. That starts with Julian Love.

Love leads the team with 14 passes defensed. He’s matched up against top receivers in every game this season, from JJ Arcega-Whiteside to Nyquon Murray to Greg Dortich.

Whichever one Love is covering needs to be shut down completely in this game. Love would be a “lead by example” type of player, even though the Irish secondary has proven they don’t need to be motivated or brought up by one other guy.

Imagine what it would do to the confidence of a freshman quarterback, in a huge game against the number three team in the country, if one of his first passes is intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

Key defensive USC player: Linebacker Cameron Smith:

Just because USC has three times as many injured players as wins doesn’t mean there’s not still talent there.

Cameron Smith is a big time player who makes big time plays. In USC’s win over Washington State, Smith accounted for 15 tackles. He has 12 career games in which he’s had 10 or more, and five more in which he was one away.

He has size and experience: at 6’2, 250 pounds, the Senior has played in 45 games and started most of those.

Smith is no stranger to Notre Dame, either. As a freshman, he had 11 tackles and a fumble recovery. In 2016, he had 10 tackles. Last year he repeated that performance with 10 again. That’s 31 tackles in his career against Notre Dame in 3 games.

Smith’s likely headed for another big game. It’s his final home game, and like Jerry Tillery, he’s tying to build his draft status.


With so much on the line for these two teams, it’s hard not to expect to see both teams play at their top level.

Or is it?

We know Notre Dame will show up. Win and they’re in the playoff. Play a solid, full 60 minutes of mistake free football and the rest will take care of itself.

But which USC shows up?

A motivated, hungry team that can not only reach the six win mark it thought it’d reach in October? A team that can destroy a rival’s season? The top 15 team nearly everyone expected to see?

Or do we get a team that is flat and deflated after a disappointing season, one that was capped by an embarrassing loss to a 2-8 UCLA team? The team that has given up more than 30 points five time this season and has scored 14 or less in 3 games this season?

Rumor has it that Clay Helton will be back for the Trojans next season, which may leave you asking what that has to do with tonight. This is Helton’s third full season as head coach, but there’s still some hangover of Steve Sarkisian recruits. Will the team show up and fight for the head coach?

USC has already clinched its worst season since 2001, when they went 6-6.

I think the injury toll, as well as lack of solid quarterback play for the Trojans will really hurt them. JT Daniels has only completed 57% of his passes this year, and really needs a solid performance from the receiving corps to help boost him up.

I think Notre Dame can shut down all aspects of the USC offense. I haven’t seen anything from USC lately that makes me think they can move the ball on the Irish at a high rate.

If Ian Book has a clean day, and Dexter Williams has another big day, Notre Dame should have clear sailing on its way to another victory.

This game should be a replay of last year — only worse.

Next. Slap the Sign Staff Predictions: Notre Dame vs. USC. dark


Notre Dame 48, USC 10