USC vs. Notre Dame is one of the greatest rivalries in college football, and simply put, this Saturday may be the most significant game between the two in decades. After years of mediocrity, USC controls its own destiny and has a chance to make it to the College Football Playoff for the first time in school history. While Notre Dame doesn’t have this opportunity, spoiling USC’s chances would be just as sweet. Both teams have shown incredible resolve and grit with new coaches and cultures, but what matchup matters most in this blue blood battle?
USC’s high flying, pass oriented offense has been a struggle for opposing defenses all year, and I think the Irish will face a similar challenge. Ranking 27th in the country in passing yards allowed, 22nd in passing yards per attempt allowed, and 28th in yards per completion allowed, Notre Dame’s pass defense is a very middling group. Additionally, throughout the season, that same defense has gotten worse whenever they played top tier quarterbacks.
In Week 1, CJ Stroud and Ohio State soundly beat Notre Dame, and in Week 4, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye threw for over 300 yards and 5 touchdown passes. Notre Dame did end up winning the bout against the Tar Heels, but they should be very worried about facing Caleb Williams next week, who just threw for 470 yards against UCLA. USC also sports one of the best wide receiver cores in the country, with Jordan Addison, Mario Williams, Michael Jackson III, Kyle Ford and Tahj Washington all having games with over 100 receiving yards. If there is any safe bet for next week’s game, it’ll be that Caleb Williams and the Trojans will continue to dominate through the air.
When it comes to USC’s rush versus Notre Dame’s rush defense, the conversation is a bit more interesting. Despite losing Travis Dye to a season ending knee injury just two weeks ago, Southern Cal’s rushing attack did not miss a beat against UCLA. Austin Jones ran for 120, and the team got to 179 rush yards total against a Bruins defense that had only been giving up 134.6 rush yards a game. Overall, USC’s rush attack is mostly just a distraction to support their pass offense, and it would be interesting to see if they use it in a bigger role against Notre Dame. The Irish have been pretty stout against the run all year, only giving up 130 yards per game and keeping five of their 11 opponents under 100 rushing yards total. Other than getting thrashed on the ground by Navy in week 11, Notre Dame has also shown improvement as the season progressed.
Ultimately, USC’s offense should have the advantage over Notre Dame’s defense because of their passing attack. I see USC’s running game having a similar role to what it had against UCLA, meaning it won’t be the focus of the offense but still manage to put in good numbers because of the expectation that the ball will be in Caleb’s hands most of the night.
Now for Notre Dame’s offense vs USC’s defense. Unlike the Trojans, Notre Dame’s whole story on offense is their running game. Even though their yearly rushing stats aren’t great at a first glance, the Irish saw dramatic improvement over the season.
In their past eight games, the Irish ran the ball over 200 yards six times, a number that a team would be content with from a whole season of play. On the other side of the ball, USC’s rush defense has been nothing more than a sieve.
Even though the Trojans did improve slightly as the year went on, they still give up 183.3 rush yards per game, which ranks 45th in the country. This, in every way, is a terrible matchup for USC and Notre Dame will absolutely take advantage of this flaw.
On a side note, Notre Dame’s passing attack will not be an issue for USC. The Irish rank 112th in the country with only 189.2 passing yards per game, and in their last three only managed 170 yards per game. This passing game has been incredibly inconsistent all year, and because Notre Dame prides itself on being a hard-nosed running team, I don’t see them going to put much, if any, pressure on their quarterback Drew Pyne.
I believe the most important thing to look for will be how USC fairs against Notre Dame’s rushing attack. USC’s pass offense will be consistent as it has been all year, but they will need a lot of help from an unreliable defense to get past their big time rivals. Despite me promoting all of these numbers and stats, I also think that the team with the greatest will to win will be victorious. In such a huge rivalry, that’s usually the way it goes. As of right now, I am leaning towards supporting Caleb Williams, USC and a rocking Coliseum on Saturday because they have been more consistent throughout the year, and have a lot more to play for than the Irish.