FACTS & STATS: Site: Los Angeles Coliseum (93,607) — Los Angeles, California.
Television: FOX. Home Record: Notre Dame 4-2, USC 4-1. Away Record: Notre Dame
0-2, USC 3-3. Neutral Record: Notre Dame 3-0, USC 0-0. Conference Record:
Notre Dame 0-0, USC 6-3. Series Record: Notre Dame leads, 45-34-5.
GAME NOTES: One of the most storied intersectional rivalries in the country
adds another chapter to its lore on Saturday, as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish
close out their regular season with their annual showdown with the USC
Brian Kelly’s Irish were in the talk for one of the four coveted playoff spots
early on this season, but Notre Dame has faltered in the second half of the
season, losing four of its last five games. The Irish come into this season
finale with an ugly three-game losing streak in tow after last week’s 31-28
setback to Louisville.
USC had its shot at the Pac-12 title erased last weekend with a 38-20 loss at
cross-town rival UCLA. With the setback to the Bruins, Steve Sarkasian’s
Trojans fell to 7-4 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12.
Notre Dame holds a 45-34-5 series advantage against USC and has won three of
the last four meetings, including last year’s 14-10 decision in South Bend.
However, USC has won nine of the last 12 matchups.
The Irish struggled offensively against Louisville last time out, managing
just 335 yards of total offense and that simply hasn’t been the norm this
season. Notre Dame has done a far better job moving the football on the year,
averaging 453.3 yards per game. The team is generating 155.1 yards on the
ground and 298.2 through the air.
Quarterback Everett Golson is a bit of an enigma. incredibly talented, Golson
has completed 61.1 percent of his passes, for 3,280 yards and 29 TDs, but he
has turned the ball over a lot this season, including 13 interceptions.
The passing game has been aided this season by the emergence of wideout Will
Fuller as a true star. The 6-foot-1 junior has caught 66 balls this season,
for 962 yards and a whopping 14 TDs.
Notre Dame’s ground game lacks a workhorse back, but sophomore Tarean Folston
(802 yards, 5.3 ypc, 5 TDS) has shown flashes of strong play. Golson is also a
threat with his legs, leading the team with eight rushing scores.
While Notre Dame’s offense has been somewhat consistent, the defense has been
anything but. The unit has been put into some bad spots due to turnovers, but
still is yielding close to 400 yards per game (385.5 ypg). The result is that
opponents are averaging 27.5 ppg against the Irish.
The team lost tough-as-nails linebacker Joe Schmidt (65 tackles) to injury a
couple of weeks ago, but others have stood up to fill the void. Sophomore
linebacker Jaylon Smith is the team’s top playmaker on defense, leading the
way with 89 tackles. He also has 7.5 TFL, two sacks and a forced fumble to his
credit. Cornerbacks Matthias Farley (43 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 4 INTs)
and Cole Luke (40 tackles, 4 INTs) have been active on the outside.
The USC offense mirrors the Notre Dame offense in many regards. The Trojans
are averaging 441.5 yards per game, fueled by a passing attack that is netting
close to 300 yards (287.5).
Quarterback Cody Kessler doesn’t have the athleticism that Golson has, but he
has been much more efficient passing the football, completing close to 70
percent of his throws (.697), for 3,130 yards, with 30 TD passes against just
Wideout Nelson Agholor was good last season, but has taken it to a new level
this year, catching 85 balls, for 1,103 yards and 10 TDs, while adding two
more scores via punt returns.
Notre Dame doesn’t have a workhorse back, but USC does in Javorius Allen. The
6-1 junior has 231 carries this season and has rumbled for 1,244 yards and
The Trojans have been less consistent on defense, where they yield just over
400 yards of total offense per game (402.6). The unit has recorded 26 sacks
and forced 20 turnovers though.
Senior linebacker Hayes Pullard has been a force this season, pacing the team
with 84 tackles. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams (66 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 1
INT, 3 FF) has NFL talent up front for USC. Sophomore linebacker Su’a Cravens
(56 tackles, 15.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 2 INTs) is a star on the rise.
There will probably be no shortage of offense in this game, as both teams
possess the personnel to move the ball up and down the field. In the end
however, the homefield advantage should tip the scales in USC’s favor.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 33, Notre Dame 27